Aphrodite of Knidos
Aphrodite of Knidos, dating between 360 and 330 B.C., is considered one of the greatest accomplishments of the sculptor Praxiteles. If an account by Pliny the Elder is to be believed, the sculpture is of such beauty and value that the Knidians turned down an offer to have their enormous debt cancelled in exchange for the statue, and that once, “A certain man was once overcome with love for the statue and that, after he had hidden himself [in the shrine] during the nighttime, he embraced it and that it thus bears a stain, an indication of his lust” (Havelock, 10). Aphrodite of Knidos is a sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite, nude, 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. While her right hand covers her genital area, her left hand holds a thoroughly wrinkled piece of drapery hanging over a vase, their presence explained by Swiss archaeologist J.J. Bernoulli: “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” (Havelock, 22). Weight shift is also observed in the curve of Aphrodite’s hips and neck, and her hair is depicted in a way resembling real human hair, and her face is more specific than generalized. Of particular note regarding Aphrodite’s nudity are the natural depiction of the breasts and slight plumpness of the flesh on the abdomen; the “flesh” looks like it would yield under the pressure of a human touch.
Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos is said to be “the first female nude in three-dimensional and monumental form” (Havelock, 9), and as such her nude form does a great deal to portray the idea of humanism. First of all, the sculpture is of a goddess, but is modeled after and portrayed as a human being. This demonstrates that the human form is ideal, one fitting enough for a god to assume. Contrapposto also serves to communicate humanism, as the rigid sculptures that proceeded the Classical period were rigid and inhuman; weight shift makes the forms more natural, and gives them a greater humanity. Finally, the subtle plumpness of the sculpture’s flesh creates an image that, instead of clashing with the ideal, creates a new ideal to aspire to, as it is the 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.
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, 1995. Books.google.com. Web. 30 Nov. 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?id=4_EFkANydjIC&pg=PA10&vq=%22superior+to+all+the+works,+not+only+of+Praxiteles,+but+indeed+in+the+whole+world,