Roman Bronze Statuette of Aphrodite (Venus)
Period: 1st Century B.C.
Dimensions: H: 21 cm
With Thomas Howard-Sneyd Ltd, 1996; ex Louis de Clerq (1836-1901) collection.
Complete, in excellent condition. Smooth and clean surface, partially showing light corrosions. Beautiful patina ranging from green to dark brown, red traces. Right forefinger now lost. Pedestal chipped in the posterior part
With a gentle gaze directed to the left, this figure of Aphrodite stands gracefullyon a hollow, drum-shaped pedestal, whose edge is molded. Her pose is sensuous, with the left leg bent at the knee and heel raised. In a feigned expression of modesty, the right hand is strategically positioned in front of her pubic area, which effectively extends an invitation to the viewer to admire the revealed beauty of the goddess. Such a placement of the hand, almost an instinctive gesture, is derived from Near Eastern fertility figurines and suggests the basically religious connotation of the image. The left arm is bent at the elbow and extends out and downward, with fingers curved around toward the palm of her hand. In the pose of the original large scale sculpture, from which this statuette is derived, the left hand held the cloak of the goddess as she was disrobing or dressing at her bath. Her long wavy hair, parted above the forehead and pulled back at the sides, is bound in a chignon at the back of her head and drawn up on top into a series of wavy bowknots of hair, which are secured by a fillet. As is customary for images of the goddess of love, her nude curvaceous body has a full and voluptuous form.
The pose of this bronze statuette of Aphrodite is particularly significant, ultimately being inspired by the famous Hellenistic Aphrodite of Knidos created by Praxiteles in the 4th century B.C. For centuries his statue of Aphrodite adorned a shrine dedicated to the goddess of love in the Greek city of Knidos on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea. The fame of this cult statue spread throughout the Mediterranean world and was noted well into the Roman period, when in the 1st century A.D. Pliny the Elder described it as superior to all the works, not only of Praxiteles, but indeed the whole world. The circular shrine for the Knidian Aphrodite was designed to be open all around so the sculpture’s pose would be admirable from all points of view, as this bronze statuette so aptly demonstrates. The round or tholos temple form for display of the Knidian Aphrodite is known from the Roman emperor Hadrian’s romantic evocation of it, which housed his copy installed in the gardens of his splendid villa at Tivoli.
With his creation of the Aphrodite of Knidos, Praxiteles introduced a new subject to the sculptural repertoire of Greek art: the large-scale, free-standing, and fully nude female figure. This type of image, of which many variations of pose and attributes were subsequently created, became known as the Venus Pudica, or Modest Venus (ou Aphrodite pudique en français) because the goddess attempts to cover her nakedness. No doubt spurred on by Praxiteles’ creation of the graceful yet daringly nude Aphrodite, statues of Aphrodite became very popular by the 3rd century B.C., a trend which continued into the Roman period. Among the most strikingly beautiful nudes of the Hellenistic period, the three-dimensional figure of Praxiteles’ Aphrodite can be compared to several other famous sculptures which it profoundly influenced: the Capitoline Venus in Rome, the Venus de’ Medici in Florence, and the Standing Venus at the Vatican, the poses of which this bronze statuette of Aphrodite may also be compared.
Although this statuette’s standing posture and gaze is suitable for the type associated with large-scale cult statues of Aphrodite, its intimate size denotes that it likely served a decorative or votive function, like similar bronze figures of Aphrodite found in Roman household shrines called lararia. Whatever its intended use in antiquity, the pleasing and harmonious balance embodied in this Aphrodite, which reached a climax in Hellenistic sculpture, continued to satisfy perceptions of the goddess of love for centuries beyond and into the Roman period, the Renaissance, and our Modern Age.
BRINKEROFF D., Figures of Venus, Creative and Derivative, in Studies Presented to George M. A. Hanfmann, Mainz/Rhine, 1971, pp. 9-16, pls. 4-7 (with discussion on parallels between the Aphrodite of Knidos, the Capitoline Aphrodite, and Medici Aphrodite).
HASKELL F. – PENNY N., Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture,New Haven, 1981, pp. 318-333, n. 84, 88, 90, figs. 169, 173, 175.
SMITH R. R. R., Hellenistic Sculpture, New York 1991, pp. 79-83, figs. 98-101.
For Hellenistic sculpture and comparable types:
BIEBER M., Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age, New York 1961.
LULLIES R. – HIRMER M., Greek Sculpture, New York, 1960.
RICHTER G. M. A., Catalogue of Greek Sculptures, Oxford, 1954.
RICHTER G. M. A., The Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks, New Haven, 1970.