This superb sculpture is a representation of mythology’s most famous women: Aphrodite. She is rendered in a traditionally sensuous and dramatic pose, resting her weight on her left leg, the right slightly flexed with the toes touching the ground. The arms are supporting a length of drapery that is wrapped around the body just below the breasts; the left arm is higher than the head, the right at abdomen level. The head is turned sharply over the right shoulder, the face looking to the side and backwards. The stone is white marble, which has been exquisitely carved and polished; the drapery is also superbly rendered.
Aphrodite, or Venus as she was known in Roman times, has been a major subject of sculptural fascination for over two thousand years. She is the Greek equivalent of the Middle Eastern and prehistoric mother goddess, and is said to have arisen in her current form with the Assyrians. She was the goddess of love and beauty, born of the Paphos sea foam from which she is seen rising in Botticelli’s epoch-marking Birth of Venus. Her gift was to captivate any man who laid eyes upon her.
Her beauty was such that she threatened to destabilise the divine pantheon, and she was married off in haste to Hephaestus, the comparatively placid god of craftsmen, volcanoes and smithing. While Hephaestus doted on her, Aphrodite, whose beauty was enhanced by the cestus girdle he made for her, was systematically unfaithful, being lover to Adonis (who was also her surrogate son) and Ares, amongst others. She was easily angered and prone to jealousy, notably of Psyche, a mortal woman of great beauty. The myth of Aphrodite and Psyche is one of the classics of the genre; she is also associated with the judgement of Paris, the story of Hippolytus, Pygmalion and Galatea, and a host of other romantically-inclined myths.
The cult of Aphrodite was very prevalent at one time, and was believed to include ritual prostitution; this is something of a tradition that stems from her Middle Eastern roots. Her statue was often carved for temples and also for high-ranking homes and public gathering places. The most notable of these is the Venus de Milo, found on the island of Melos in 1820 AD. The pose in which she stands is known as the pose of the Judgement of Paris; there are at least half a dozen recognised specific poses. The current variant is known as the Aphrodite Kallipygos – literally, The Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks. Her pose has been interpreted as indicating that she is raising her diaphanous clothing to expose, and perhaps evaluate, her buttocks and legs.
This is a beautiful piece of neoclassical sculpture.