Praxiteles, My Eyes

I'll never set eyes upon her. No one will.  A riot that led to the burning of most of Constantinople almost 1,500 years ago consumed her fully.  She was already almost 900 years old at that time, and a marvel that drew adventurers and lovers of beauty from all over the Mediterranean world for those centuries in which she captivated the hearts of men.  Known as the Aphrodite of Knidos, she was the creation of Praxiteles.  

How do I even know that she existed?  Pliny the Elder visited her in the first century AD, and called her not only the finest sculpture by Praxiteles, but the finest in the whole world.  There are many accounts of her from antiquity.  Today, we know her from those descriptions, from her image stamped on a coin, and from Roman copies and statues inspired by her.  It is one such sculpture, that drew me to wonder exactly how Praxiteles' original appeared, in order to captivate so many.  I'll never know, but I stood face to face with the Capitoline Venus in July 2011, as she is shown here.

Praxiteles' Aprhrodite was the first life-size nude female sculpture of antiquity.  The Roman copies, such as the Capitoline Venus above, are known as Venus pudica (modest Venus).  Although her hands attempt to cover her as she prepares for her ritual bath to restore her purity, those same hands call attention to the femininity that she seeks to conceal.   Her Roman hair is more elaborate than the style of Praxiteles' original, and, as he drew her forth from marble, she covered herself with only one hand.

Even the fact that I stood before the Capitoline Venus, and she before me, is improbable.  She herself lay buried and forgotten for almost 1,300 years.

A closer copy, produced about two hundred years before my Capitoline Goddess, and about three hundred years after Praxiteles Aphrodite, gives us a better idea of how she looked.

So, I think of her, and wonder.

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7 Responses Sep 16, 2012

Such a very nice story, it makes me wonder whether any of Praxiteles other art survives. I studied Greek Civilization in college, and one of my favorite subjects is Greek art. Just like Praxiteles, nothing from Sappho survives intact. Still from pieces and fragments, and stories of her soft voice and loving metaphors we know that Sappho lived and thrived.... Perhaps one day I shall meet her, and hear her beautiful voice, just like you see Praxiteles' beautiful Aphrodite.

the problem studying ancient Greece is that it often led to a good cry......

the tragedy of course is so little survives

I always imagine what the Acropolis must have looked like, guarded by a painted Athena in ancient times......

She's beautiful. I could listen to you the whole night about your favorite art. You make the past, the forgotten and the unnoticed stand out. The romance itself is once brought up through you fine reflections.
Wow!! I can't believe I said those. But honestly, I love how you love art. Thanks for sharing this story. I just so love ancient history, and I'm a good listener.^^

I love Greek art, and Roman copies. It amuses me to think of how much their bare, clean white lines appeals to our modern taste. When actually they would have seemed pretty garish in their painted states. I am right in thinking many of these periods statues were actually cast in bronze? hmmmm, anyway good story! like it....

So what are some of the other most beautiful marble statues in the world? Although I'm from a very remote little town, I've visited the Louvre and Museums in Boston, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington DC. In each place I have a handful of favorites, where I can go sit and contemplate, as I read my books just as I look, lusting for their beauty in total disguise.

Corcoran in DC? where is that? (Going there in two weeks.)

I may have been there already. If not, I'll catch it the next visit.... thanks



I am going to enjoy spending time here I see.

I have always had a real love of these sculptures.....They were like Goddesses of their time but they always looked thoughtful and sort of "regular" in the artists depictions... I have always loved that far off, thoughtful look on faces.....even today on real folks.....makes me wonder what they're thinking about.

Jeez.....I wish I looked that mysterious and thoughtful when I was thinking about bills to pay and shopping lists. I think I sorta pinch my eyebrows together and look sorta grumpy or just weird!! It's a shame we don't know exactly who did them either.... :(