The life-size marble work represents one of the most important discoveries of Roman sculpture in the world, said James Snyder, director of the museum.
The statue was discovered in 1993 in an ancient bathhouse during an archaeological dig in Beit Shean, a small city near the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. The Hebrew University archeologists who excavated the Venus sculpture uncovered several works also intended to decorate the lavish bathing area, including Dionysus, a goddess Athena, a headless emperor and a nymph.
The flesh-toned pink figure of the Venus strikes a sensuous pose against a back wall as the last exhibit in a long hall of archaeological treasures at the museum.
With locks of hair curling around the collarbone of the headless sculpture, the figure is modeled after a stance called the "timid Venus," particularly striking because the sculpture's missing hands reveal parts of her female body that the artist intended to partially hide. A winged Eros as a pudgy child riding a dolphin supports her left leg.
Archaeologist Gideon Foerster said the half-ton statue stood for 400 years. He and his colleagues believe the Venus was sculpted in the town of Aphrodisias in modern Turkey.
Dudi Mevorach, chief curator of the museum's Roman, Hellenistic and Byzantine exhibits, said the statue has the best-preserved color of any Roman-era sculptures discovered in the world.
"The Christian society in ancient Beit Shean must have had tolerant rulers and administrators who chose not to tear down the pagan statues while their contemporaries removed them in most other places," Mevorach said.
By Kristen Stevens