Aphrodite of Knidos, by Praxiteles, one of the great masters of this period, is an example of sculpture from the late Classical Period (fourth century BCE). This was a period of political upheaval and unceasing strife. Thus Greek art in this period shifted from creating perfect humans and discovering the correct mathematical formulas for temples to focusing more on the individual and on the real world appearance.
In this sculpture, one can see that although Praxiteles did not reject the popular themes of gods and goddesses of the High Classical Period and although they have retained their supernatural beauty and perfection, they lost their “solemn grandeur and took on a worldly sensuousness.”
Aphrodite of Knidos is so named because it is a sculpture of Aphrodite that Praxiteles sold to the city of Knidos. The original statue is lost and the one pictured above is a Roman copy of the original. The sculpture was very celebrated during its time. Praxiteles gained lots of attention and it made the city of Knidos famous. Many people would sail to Knidos just to admire the sculpture in its round temple!
What made this statue so popular is that it was the first one to depict a nude goddess. In ancient Greek art, depictions of nude females were very rare, and were often confined to paintings on vases designed for household use. The women were typically in lower classes, for instance courtesans or slave girls, not noblewomen or goddesses. No one had placed a statue of a nude goddess in a temple before.
The statue of Aphrodite is depicted engaging in a trivial act of everyday life. She has removed her clothes, placing them over a hydria (water pitcher) and is just about to step into a bath.
Although the statue was shocking in its day, it is not openly (Aphrodite covers her pelvis with her right hand). However, it is meant to be sensuous. According to Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Lucian wrote in the second century CE that she had a “welcoming look” and a “slight smile” and that Praxiteles was renowned for his ability to transform marble into soft and radiant flesh. Lucian mentioned the “dewy quality” of Aphrodite’s eyes. However, unfortunately, the Roman copy does not capture these qualities as well as the Greek original.
I am always amazed by the abilities of Greek sculptors. I think that they have really mastered their art as they are capable of making marble seem like such life-like flesh. I really love Classical art because of the naturalistic characteristics of the works of art.