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Aphrodite’s berth

13 September 2010 by stepheng

modern sculpture of the goddess aphrodite

This statue reminds me of a graceful and inscrutable ship’s figurehead – perhaps that was the intention of the artist.

Figureheads adorned ships from the days of Ancient Greece up until late Victorian times. I like the haunting qualities of many figureheads, with their staring eyes fixed on distant horizons.

I also remember the liner on which the statue once stood. Visitors could tour the ship in dock for two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) if I remember rightly.

One of the great sea myths is the legend of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, rising from the foaming waves.

In 1955 the Pacific Steam Navigation Company (PSNC) was commissioning art works for its new luxury liner the Reina del Mar.

One of the artists they approached was sculptor Arthur Fleischmann (1896 – 1990) who was commissioned to create a life-size statue of Aphrodite hewn from solid Perspex in keeping with the modern age (pictured).

Fleischmann created ‘The Birth of Aphrodite‘ from a half-ton block of clear Perspex using traditional tools – a mallet and chisel. The block, built up from laminated sheets, was supplied by ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries).

Aphrodite is seen naked, floating ashore on a scallop shell. The statue originally stood in the embarkation hall of the Reina del Mar which sailed regularly between Liverpool and South America.

When the Reina del Mar was broken up in 1975, The Birth of Aphrodite was returned to the artist’s family and is now on display in Merseyside Maritime Museum.

Visitors can also see archive colour footage of the Reina del Mar’s maiden voyage from Liverpool in 1956. She passes through the Panama Canal where millions of gallons of water are lost as each ship goes through the lock gates.

Finally, the 20,234-ton ship ends her 8,000-mile journey at Valparaiso in Chile after visiting France, Spain, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Ecuador and Peru.

The 560-ft long Reina del Mar was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast and carried 207 First Class, 216 Cabin Class and 343 Tourist Class passengers.

She entered service just as scheduled air travel was about to sound the end of mass sea travel – she was the last passenger ship on the PSNC South America route.

Reina del Mar only served for eight years on this run before being withdrawn in March 1964, to particular dismay in Liverpool.

She enjoyed continuing popularity as a cruise ship after being converted to carry 998 passengers in two classes run by the Union Castle Line and Royal Mail Lines.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).

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