Praxiteles, Aphrodite of Knidos, Roman Marble Copy after Original c. 340 BC
The first nude woman sculpture by a well-known Greek sculptor, Praxiteles imbues his statue with an anti-Polykleitan sensuousness. The 6 ft 8 inch Aphrodite was actualy rejected by the city who commissioned it, yet Knidos gladly took this one, building a shrine for it to be seen in the round. Starting the long tradition in the West of the female nude, it was usually seen as a sign of low character, but Praxiteles may be merging Aphrodite with the Phoenician goddess Asarte, who was typically depicted nude. The work was wildly popular in its own time and later as copies numbered in the hundreds. Able to carve marble to look like flesh, Prax’s sculpture shows a shift towards the real, losing the solemn grandeur but gaining worldly sensuousness. In realistic contrapposto, Prax’s Aphrodite prepares to step into the bath as the viewer happens upon her, she covers her crotch in a Venus-pudica-like pose. Praxiteles makes the viewer a voyeur of a goddess no less, creating an erotic, surprising and a little embarrassing psychological scenario, born from creating a statue with such sensuousness, a divergent step from the seriousness established by Polykleitos 100 years prior.
(Taking the viewer into account is looking forward to Hellenism)
(image courtesy of proteus.brown.edu)