It’s been 200 years since sculptor Antonio Canova died, and to celebrate the anniversary, Artnet is featuring his "Venus Victrix" to coincide with Valentine’s Day.

Bad image for the holiday

Canova’s victorious goddess model was Napoleon’s sister, Pauline Bonaparte, newly married to Prince Camillo Borghese, who commissioned the work.

Camillo was so taken with his bride’s beauty that he asked that she pose in the nude and recline seductively for his own private enjoyment. Fair enough on the face of it.

But given that Valentine’s Day is for lovers, the portrait of Pauline makes zero sense.

For one thing, her relationship with Carmilla was falling apart even before the work was finished. Given that Valentine’s Day is meant for lovers, ArtNet’s is questionable.

Pauline’s second time around was the marriage, and she tied the knot less than eight months after her first husband died. Napoleon was so embarrassed by both the sculpture and his sister’s scandalous behavior that he whisked them out of sight to a Caribbean Island.

The perils of Pauline

Not that scandal was new to Pauline. Rumors had her enjoying other romantic liaisons. Which made the portrait title – "Venus Victrix" – a joke. She was no goddess of love.

Without even a nod to her husband’s devotion, she said of her nudity in the portrait, “Every veil must fall before Canova,” as if she undressed for him and not her husband.

Of course, any images of Venus is usually seen in her natural state. This was expected and accepted socially. But Canova’s sculpture of Pauline Bonaparte Borghese depicted an actual person.

Napoleon was aghast. You may remember he had the same reaction to Edward Manet’s painting of the nude woman in "Luncheon on the Grass."

Napoleon was shocked by that nude, too, because she was well known in his time as the artist Victorine Meurend.

To Manet’s credit, her pose is far from Pauline’s passive, flirtatious example.

Look, even if you didn’t know the sorry story of Pauline and Camillo, a plain-to-see message remains in the sculpture that is incompatible with Valentine’s Day.

Bad apple

I’m talking about the apple in Pauline’s hand. Why an apple? Was Canova reminding us of Eve, the temptress who got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden?

It sure looks that way – big, bad Eve.

Artnet offers a different reason for the apple by referring to the fable of the Judgment of Paris, which had him picking the most beautiful woman for the grand prize of an apple.

But then you’re left with the politically incorrect message of a beauty contest. And all you get from Venus Victrix is a surreptitious, side-long glance.

Meanwhile, here in the real world, the ill-treatment of women as sentient beings continues. Reuters reports that the UN rights office is demanding the release of female Afghan activists abducted by the Taliban for protesting lost rights.

I used to think that Manet’s depiction of Victorine Meurend in Luncheon on the Grass was the turning point when the passive female nude looked straight at the viewer as if to ask, “Have you nothing else to do?” But it’s clear that the Taliban wants women’s eyes closed.