Aphrodite from Greece to Rome

This procession of nude goddesses succinctly demonstrates the relation between Greek and Roman sculpture. The fourth-century B.C.E. Greek sculptor Praxiteles was commissioned by the citizens of Knidos, an island off Turkey’s Aegean coast, to sculpt an image of Aphrodite. Although this marble sculpture is lost, a contemporaneous silver coin (above) from Knidos was probably cast with Praxiteles’s image of the goddess: The coin shows Aphrodite demurely and unselfconsciously laying down her robes while preparing for a bath. A second-century C.E. Roman version of the scene (above, top figue) is virtually identical to the image on the coin and may have been modeled on it. Other Roman marbles, however, treat the same mythological scene differently. The so-called Munich Aphrodite (above, bottom figure), for example, includes a small but crucial change of detail: In this version, the goddess begins to pick up her clothing, possibly startled to find herself watched. This change introduces a new theme of alarmed modesty into the sculpture—a theme not even hinted at in the Praxiteles original. The second-century C.E. Capitoline Venus (below) takes this theme even further; now the goddess is disturbed and embarrassed, and she very selfconsciously tries to cover her breasts and genitals with her hands.