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13 / The Body

Statue of Aphrodite
Statue of Aphrodite
Artist / Origin Roman artist
Region: Europe
Date 1st–2nd century CE copy after Greek original ca. 3rd–2nd century BCE
Period: 500 BCE - 1 CE
Material Marble
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 62 ½ in. (158.8 cm.) (with plinth)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

expert perspective

Andrew StewartProfessor of the History of Art and Greek Studies, UC Berkeley

Additional Resources

Havelock, Christine Mitchell. The Aphrodite of Knidos and her Successors: A Historical Review of the Female Nude in Greek Art. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Hersey, George L. The Evolution of Allure: Sexual Selection from the Medici Venus to the Incredible Hulk. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.

Kolosky-Ostrow, Ann Olga, and Claire L. Lyons, eds. Naked Truths: Women, Sexuality, and Gender in Classical Art and Archaeology. London; New York: Routledge, 2000.

Stewart, Andrew. Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Stewart, Andrew. Classical Greece and the Birth of Western Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Statue of Aphrodite

» Roman artist

During the Hellenistic period in Greece, statues of Aphrodite became increasingly popular.

The most renowned of these Greek goddesses was the marble Aphrodite of Knidos, created in the fourth century BCE by the sculptor Praxiteles, and believed to be the first major work to depict the goddess in the nude. Around the same time Praxiteles produced the Aphrodite of Knidos, he turned out another figure of the goddess, this one draped. According to Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE), the clothed figure was purchased first, while the nude was initially rejected. Nevertheless, the people of Knidos soon bought the naked statue and set it in an open-air shrine, where it quickly became a sensation in the Greek world.

A celebration of the female body in three dimensions, Praxiteles’ Aphrodite served as inspiration for later Roman sculptors who looked to it as the ideal of beauty, proportion, and grace. These artists made countless copies and over time, the gesture and stance of the Aphrodite of Knidos were conventionalized.

Modestly shielding her genitals and breasts, while at the same time drawing attention to her nakedness, the Aphrodite of Knidos was a clever solution by Praxiteles to the problem of depicting a figure that was at once a powerful goddess demanding worship and a beautiful woman associated with love and sexuality. Like Praxiteles’ goddess, the Roman Aphrodite seen here would, in its original state, have gestured ambivalently. Sculptures like this one and the well-known Medici Venus, another Roman copy, are known as Venus pudica, or the modest Venus types. In European art of the Renaissance, the same pose is often Christianized, borrowed in representations of Eve after the Fall.


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