May 19, 2015

#04-020: Praxiteles and Phryne

antique statue of a nude woman covering her private parts with her right hand and holding a robe in her left
Copy of the Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles

Note: When you say "Greek," I think "sculpture"! And Praxiteles was one of the greatest of Greek sculptors. Meet him and his (supposed) GF.

Get Ready: How do you feel about nudity used in art? Is it okay for ancient works, but not modern?

Of all the visual arts practiced by the Greeks--pottery and painting, architecture and metalwork--none has captured the admiration of later ages like that of sculpture.

While few sculptures from the early days have remained, plenty of copies were made that can still be seen today. And few capture the imagination like the Aphrodite of Knidos (or Cnidus), created by Praxiteles of Athens.

Little is known of this greatest of all 4th-century Greek sculptors. Even his birth and death dates are unknown, though it is assumed that he passed away some time before 332 BCE, when Alexander the Great came to power. No commissions by Alexander were ever recorded, and he would certainly have engaged the services of this master if he were still available.

That date means Praxiteles and Aristotle (see Lesson #04-019) were contemporaries. Aristotle, who wrote on aesthetics, must have been familiar with the work of Praxiteles.

Most or all of Praxiteles's works depicted humans, or the human figures of the younger gods, like Hermes and Aphrodite. He seems to have avoided the more serious members of the Pantheon, like Zeus or Poseidon,

The Aphrodite of Knidos is thought to be the first full-sized Greek representation of a woman--not only of that goddess of love, but of any woman--ever created without clothes.

There are numerous legends attached to this Aphrodite. One is that Praxiteles was fulfilling a commission from a town, and created one statue with clothes, the other without. The citizens were shocked, and rejected the nude figure. The " socially acceptable" clothed one has been forgotten. The people of Knidos then purchased the nude Aphrodite and proudly set her in an open-air temple, where she could be viewed from all sides.

Another legend says that the model for this statue was Praxiteles's lover, a courtesan (a sort of well-educated, high-class prostitute) named Phryne. She was famous in her own right, and the subject of other works of art and a number of legends.

One such legend says that she was on trial in court on charges of impiety. When her lawyer's arguments failed, they say, the lawyer disrobed her to the waist. The jury as so affected by her beauty that she was acquitted!


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Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. acquitted
  2. aesthetics
  3. architecture
  4. commission
  5. contemporaries
  6. disrobed
  7. impiety
  8. passed away
  9. sculpture
  10. socially acceptable

  1. the design of buildings
  2. lack of a proper religious attitude
  3. following the rules or expectations of society
  4. people who lived at the same time
  5. a statue, or the art of making statues
  6. let go; declared "not guilty"
  7. the study of what is beautiful
  8. died
  9. took the clothes off of
  10. requesting someone to make something for pay

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 19, 2015

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. g; 3. a; 4. j; 5. d; 6. i; 7. b; 8. h; 9. e; 10. c