Aphrodite of Knidos. 1884. plaster cast of a 1st century BC Roman sculpture. Fiumicino, Italy
Museum of Classical Archaeology 232
The Classical body has been a template for later European ideals, from the Renaissance to the present. Said to be the first life-size female nude in art, the Aphrodite of Knidos by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles became an archetype for representations of the female body. In the nineteenth century, collections of plaster casts of classical sculpture provided artists and scholars with objects of study, comparison and inspiration.
The original sculpture was legendary for its incredible accuracy. Its realism was powerful and shocking because of the goddess’s nakedness, the tactility of her flesh and the intimacy of her pose.
There have been many copies and adaptations over time. Many follow recognized types, marked not by physical features but by a combination of gestures that highlight themes such as modesty, femininity or divinity. In some, the figure self-consciously covers her nakedness. In others, her pose is modified, the body more or less covered, the hair more or less disheveled.
In these different interpretations the female body is presented as dangerous and provocative, something that needs to be covered or treated with modesty. The male figure, in contrast, needs no such protection. The body, whether human or divine, becomes something that can be reproduced and controlled.