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Aphrodite of Knidos: Historical Context and Interpretation of the Artwork

The artworks of ancient Greece and Rome have exercised an exuberant amount of influence on the cultures of several countries all over the world. Specifically, the areas of architecture and sculpture mainly influenced these artistic cultures. In fact, the statue Aphrodite of Knidos is one of the most renowned and most mentioned in literary sources. Thus, there is no question as to why this piece has been so prominent to me. Upon a trip to Italy, I was fortunate enough to see the elegance of Aphrodite of Knidos in person, and ever since then, have been intrigued by her Greek divinity. Though the exact date is unclear, Aphrodite of Knidos was created around the time of 350 BCE and depicts the goddess of love and beauty in marble stone. Unfortunately, like many works of art during this time period, the Aphrodite of Knidos did not survive. Luckily, however, several copies of various mediums were created before its destruction. Considered one of the greatest accomplishments by the sculptor Praxiteles, Aphrodite of Knidos was once described by Pliny as, “superior to all works, not only Praxiteles, but indeed in the whole world”. Praxiteles revolutionized the classical Greek art world by introducing the female nude as a subject for art. This innovative three-dimensional piece consequently became exceedingly monumental. Though Western culture’s obsession with the ideal female figure is unquestionable, Praxiteles’ statue Aphrodite of Knidos generalizes the ideals of beauty and demonstrates the growing search for the perfection of our realized ideals.

According to a possible apocryphal account by Pliny, a famous Roman author, Praxiteles received a commission from the people of Kos for a statue of the goddess Aphrodite. Praxiteles originally created two different statues; one fully clothed, and the other entirely nude. The citizens of Kos were immediately shocked and rejected the nude statue. The draped statue was sadly destroyed, leaving no evidence of its appearance and design. The rejected statue, however, was purchased by some citizens of Knidos, and became one of Praxiteles’ most famous pieces. This is mostly due to the attention drawn from the sexuality of the bare nude figure. The smooth marble statue depicts the goddess holding a piece of drapery over a vase. “Nude Aphrodite stands with a sleight weight shift in her legs, as evidenced by the bending of her left knee.” Her right hand gracefully covers her genital area, which detracts from thoughts of fertility and instead the viewer is drawn to sexuality. Her left hand holds a wrinkled piece of drapery hanging over a vase. Swiss archaeologist J.J. Bernoulli explains that, “a garment had to be nearby so that Aphrodite could grab it in an emergency and pull it around her in case anyone should unexpectedly come upon her. The vase contained the water for the bath.” Her pose is a classic example of contrapposto, as indicated by her unevenly distributed weight onto her right leg. Weight shift is also demonstrated by the curve in Aphrodite’s neck and hips. Her face is more precise than generalized, and hair is portrayed in a way to resemble real human hair. Her eyes, like all marble statues of the fourth century B.C., the exterior of the eyeball remained unidentified, and regardless if she was painted or not, her gaze is not toward a specific point. Also, “the natural depiction of the breasts and slight plumpness of the flesh on the abdomen” create “flesh” that “looks like it would yield under the pressure of a human touch.” Overall, Aphrodite of Knidos is a marble figure that overall composition provides a deep and enduring attribute of women.

As the first completely nude female statue, Aphrodite of Knidos monumentally stirred up the notion of the idealism of the womanly figure. Because the nudes during this time were all males, this statue went highly against the current cultural standards. This was also so shocking because at the time, men could control themselves, while women could not. The fact that this statue depicts a completely nude woman transforms the roles, giving the men feeling depraved and uncontrolled. Aphrodite, modestly covering herself, makes the point to the viewers of her basis of sexuality. Though “the eroticism involved in this statue doesn’t degrade her, in fact, when compared to the standard philosophy of women at the time, it celebrates her. It celebrates her modesty and her beauty.” This is perhaps why she is the ideal, physically as well as in her content. Her body was presented in a way that has never been presented before. This ancient Greek culture had an extremely strict view of feminine virtue, and Aphrodite of Knidos is so significant because she was able to transform the way women are idealized. Christine Havelock, writer of The Aphrodite of Knidos and Her Successors, agrees in that Aphrodite’s beauty “resulted in an ideal conception of the human figure.” She is ideal, self-confident, and completely without strain. The statue also emits a sense of purity and tranquility. The Online Museum of Greek Art and Archaeology reveals that her nude form does a great deal to portray the idea of humanism. The contrapposto pose as well as plumpness of her figure creates an ideal image of the real-world woman. “When it is stated that “man is the measure of all things”, Aphrodite of Knidos proves that “woman” is also sufficiently demonstrative of this concept.” Though it is obvious that every single culture, present or past, has a unique idea of female perfection. These ideals are ever changing. Aphrodite of Knidos generalizes the ideals of feminine beauty of the ancient Greek culture. Touching on the themes of sexuality and modesty, Aphrodite of Knidos was the beautiful ideal to the people who had created it.

To conclude, the artworks of ancient times have been extremely influential to countless cultures today. Praxiteles’ statue Aphrodite of Knidos is one of the most influential pieces of Greek art, for it is included in most literary sources. Overall, Aphrodite of Knidos was the first nude female sculpture, and therefore, revolutionized the classical Greek art world. She contributes to the idealism of the woman figure, for she simplifies the ideals of beauty and introduces the growing search for the perfection of our realized ideals. Overall, Aphrodite of Knidos shows the never-ending, ever changing, ever growing search for the ideal figure.

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