The ancient Greek art, particularly architecture and sculpture, influenced the culture of many nations. The Roman Empire derived its art from Greek models. The Conquests of Alexander the Great led to the interactions between Greek, Indian and Asian cultures, leading to the emergence of Greco-Buddhist art. Greek’s classical tradition, for a long time, dominated the western world’s art.
The Aphrodite of Knidos was sculpted by Praxiteles, at around 330BC. He was commissioned to create a sculpture of Aphrodite, the goddess, and responded by making two sculptures: one clothed and the other where Aphrodite was naked. It is believed that Praxiteles was from Athens. His father, Kephisodotus was also a renowned sculptor. Many of his works were copied by the Romans due to his fame and popularity. Some pictures of his sculptors were even engraved on Roman coins, and also described by writers like Pliny the Elder. He significantly influenced the development of sculptors in Greece. His pieces portrayed elegance and sensual grace. He innovatively transformed the works of his predecessors to create impressive sculptures with a more attached tone, particularly in sculptures representing gods. He bridged the gap with the viewer by creating humanizing views of gods. Most sculptors in his time used bronze since it allowed for flexibility. However, Praxiteles preferred marble because it was able to bring out the radiance and softness of the skin. With bronze, it was easier to bring out the human anatomy and the responsiveness due to motion of the body. Therefore, Praxiteles has to be more accurate to create a perfect figure. He achieved this, and also created a beautiful surface and texture on his works. This gave him an edge over other sculptors and made him the distinguished sculptor he was. His works were of the younger gods like Hermes, Aphrodite and Apollo instead of elderly gods such as Zeus or Poseidon.
Aphrodite of Knidos was his most famous and admired sculpture. It was the first ever sculpture of a naked female. When he revealed the finished work to the island of Kos, they were shocked and rejected it because of the nudity of the goddess. Instead, the city of Knidos bought the sculpture and it became an attraction to many tourists that came to their land. King Nicomedes efforts to acquire the sculpture were thwarted when the people of Knidos declined his offer to settle their debt in exchange for the sculpture. Critics praised the sculpture by claiming that Praxiteles gave soul to marble. People claimed that the sculpture resembled Aphrodite so much that a story emerged that Aphrodite saw it and asked “When did Praxiteles see me naked?” Aphrodite of Knidos became so famous that artists in different generations were inspired to make similar copies. Many of these exist in museums worldwide. The original Aphrodite was; however, stolen from Knidos. Lausos’ palace in Constantinople was the last place it was seen.
A fundamental feature of the High and Late Classical sculptures brought out by the sculptures of the gods was the recognition of their personifications of concepts. For instance, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sex was portrayed as nude and expressing her sensuality. Another feature used by Praxiteles was the idea of contrapposto (counter pose). The hips of the sculpture had a contrasting slant to that of the shoulders. The weight of the statue remained shifted on one leg, and the body had a more pronounced curve. It brought out a sense of equilibrium. Furthermore, it enhanced the sensuousness of Aphrodite’s figure. The sculpture brought out a serene and calm feeling as Aphrodite prepared to bathe. Her head looked to the left, creating an impression that she had been disturbed. It created an interaction with the viewer, making him feel that he was looking at something he should not. The sculptures of early classical period only allowed for a frontal view. During the late classical period, artists created sculptors that could be viewed in three dimensions, with equal effectiveness.
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