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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
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by Amanda Bauer
The “Aphrodite of Knidos” is the most famous of Praxiteles’ works, and perhaps one of the most famous sculptures of Classical Greece. Contemporaries such as Pliny lauded the sculpture as “superior to all works, not only of Praxiteles, but indeed in the whole world.” The work inspired artists for centuries to come, from Roman times to the Renaissance.
The Aphrodite was probably sculpted between 360 and 330 BCE. The original sculpture did not survive to the modern day, but various copies do (including one in the Vatican- see above). However, we can never really know whether the copies are true to the original model or if the copyists took artistic license with the work.
For the most part the statue of the goddess of love is so famous due to the fact that it is one of the first sculptures of a female portrayed completely in the nude, a practice which until that time had been reserved for portrayals of males (see kouros). Women had been depicted nude in earlier Greek art such as pottery, but usually only courtesans or slave girls, not deities. Because of its sensuality and beauty, the work was one of the most erotic of the ancient world and it was even a tourist attraction in antiquity. Men were driven mad with desire for her; Pliny observed that some visitors were “overcome with love for the statue.”
Although the sculpture was considered especially erotic, the depiction itself is really not explicitly sensual. The goddess is simply caught in a moment in time, having just taken off her clothing and draped it over a kylix (modestly shielding her pelvis) to step into a bath. She may have been painted at one time, though it is difficult to know for sure.
Biers, William R. The Archaeology of Greece: An Introduction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980. 2nd ed.
Havelock, Christine Mitchell. The Aphrodite of Knidos and Her Sucessors: A Historical Review of the Female Nude in Greek Art. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1995.
Kleiner, Fred S. and Mamiya, Chrisitin J. Gardener's Art Through the Ages. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Learning Inc., 2005.
Whitley, James. The Archaeology of Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.