Venus, the goddess of love, stands nude, grasping a piece of cloth around her hips. The dolphin at her feet supports the figure and alludes to the goddess's birth from the sea. This depiction of Venus ultimately derived from an extremely popular Greek statue created by the sculptor Praxiteles about 350 B.C. Indeed Praxiteles' statue was so popular that, beginning around 100 B.C., many artists created variations on his theme of the naked Venus.
This statue is a Roman reproduction of one of those Hellenistic variants. In 1509 it was discovered in Rome, where it contributed to the Renaissance revival of the Classical tradition. Scholars once believed that this statue was owned by Cardinal Mazarin, advisor to Louis XIV, king of France. Although this is unlikely, the statue is still known to many as the Mazarin Venus.
During its long history, the statue has been heavily damaged. The breasts, as well as parts of the cloth, arms, and dolphin, are restored. The head probably belonged to another ancient statue. Marks on the back of the statue have been interpreted as gunshot wounds suffered during the French Revolution, although this story may be based more in romance than in fact.