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The Israel Museum yesterday unveiled a rare marble statue of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, discovered a decade ago in excavations of the ancient city of Beit She'an.

According to curators, the statue is unique because of the original coat of paint that can still be seen on it. The museum hopes the "Beit She'an Venus" will become one of the most famous statues of its kind.

The statue, dated to the second century C.E., was found during the excavation of the eastern bathhouse at Beit She'an by professors Gideon Foerster and Yoram Tzafrir of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology.

It is of the type known as Venus pudica, or modest Venus, because of the way the figure's arms are crossed in an attempt to conceal her breasts and pubic area. Eros appears at her side, in the form of a pudgy child riding a dolphin.

The professors think that the half-ton, 160 centimeter Beit She'an Venus was sculpted in a large workshop in the town of Aphrodisias in Asia Minor, now Turkey. The statue's head, hands and feet are missing.

Technicians at the Israel Museum and Israel Antiquities Authority laboratories have worked for years to clean and repair the statue, which was broken in several pieces and covered in hardened sediment when it was found.

The red, blue and yellow paint that originally covered the statue can still be seen in several places. Dudi Mevorach, chief curator of the museum's Roman, Hellenistic and Byzantine exhibits, said the pigments are the best preserved on any Roman-era statue anywhere in the world.

Foerster said the statue stood for 400 years, including 150 when Beit She'an was under Christian rule.

The city, known as Nisa-Scythopolis during the Roman period, had two bathhouses, as well as temples, paved streets and numerous public buildings.

At its height during the fourth century C.E., the city's inhabitants numbered some 40,000. Beit She'an was destroyed by an earthquake on January 18, 749 C.E..

Two years after the initial discovery of the statue, Foerster found one of its legs nearby. He believes additional pieces may still be found.

The statue is currently on display as part of the Israel Museum exhibit, "Beauty in Holiness," the first in a series to mark the museum's 40th anniversary.