Academic journal article Mark Twain Journal

Life Imitates Mark Twain

Academic journal article Mark Twain Journal

Life Imitates Mark Twain

Article excerpt

Mark Twain's 1869 short story "The Legend of the Capitoline Venus" imagines a most profitable hoax upon the art world of Italy. A povertystricken artist named George Arnold, working in Rome, has just sculpted a beautiful woman's statue that nobody wants to buy. A friend of his, John Smith, helps out. Smith does this by using a hammer to smash off the statue's nose, part of an ear, the right toes, and the left leg below the knee. He then buries it in the countryside, and later "discovers" it.

The Roman government forms a commission to study the statue, and decides it is a Venus of the third century, B.C.. They pay Mr. Arnold 5 million francs for it. He then marries his sweetheart, and they live happily ever after. Could such obvious nonsense ever happen in real life?

Actually, yes. It was reported in the December 16, 1938 Washington Post, under the helpful headline of '"Venus of the Turnip Patch' Fools 50-million Frenchmen. Battered 'Greek' Figure, Dug Up by a Peasant and Hailed by Savants, Just a Mark Twain's Sketches, New and Old. Hartford, Laugh to Italian Sculptor CT: American Publishing Company, 1903. and Dancer Model."

The statue was found by a peasant named Gonon, near the town of St. Etienne in southern France. The statue was eventually named "Venus de Brizet." Naturally, several parts were missing, including one arm, a nose, and the legs from the knees down. French art world experts judged it came from the time of Augustus or Hadrian. It was supposed to have been sculpted about the same time as the Venus de Milo. …

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