Greeks In Art Essay, Research Paper
Aphrodite represented in Art
As the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite holds great power over both mortals and immortals. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that she is featured in numerous myths, poems and plays; likewise, there are many representations of Aphrodite in sculpture and painting. Aphrodite remained a popular figure for artists through the ages, continuously being reborn in the latest model of female beauty. While several legends of Aphrodite stress themes of love and desire, some of most gripping myths deal with the consequences that the goddess herself suffers as a result of being the victim of love, some of which have found their way public in the form of art. There are numerous accounts depicting her birth or marriage, other images are simply artists renditions of the goddess herself. Perhaps the most interesting way to look at Aphrodite is to compare the depictions of her over time.
Early depictions of Aphrodite were crude in nature, and limited to the artistic technology of the time. Prior to the 4th century BC, she was already seen on archaic era coins and household items. A vase found in 530 BC (left) shows her and the Judgment of Paris. The image itself is rather anonymous and leaves doubt as to which person on the vase actually is Aphrodite.
In ancient art, one of the more intriguing images of the goddess Aphrodite is a sculpture known as the Ludovisi Throne. It is one of the first known images of her birth and comes from around 470 BC. It shows Aphrodite being helped up by a pair of females. There is an argument against the accuracy of this sculpture, but the consensus is that it does show her emerging from water. This is one of the earliest nude depictions of Aphrodite as well. There has also been discussion on the artist’s ability to create the image of a wet garment draped around her midsection. This later becomes popular among Greek sculptors and a trademark for Aphrodite.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Aphrodite is the manner in which she was born. Pictured here is Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1482). It is a representation of the moment Aphrodite is born and lands at Paphos in Cyprus, and is one of the more recognizable images of her birth. This great painting was inspired by the actual myth of Aphrodite as she appears from the sea. She emerges full grown with her hair flowing due to the slight breeze of the wind god, personified in the painting as Zephyrus, intertwined with Chloris. One of the seasons, also known as the Horae, stands to her left greeting her. All around them fall roses, which, according to myth, came into being at Venus’ birth. The general depiction of Aphrodite is clear, and Botticelli creates a rich, vivid image of the goddess of love and beauty. It dates to the early Renaissance and is perhaps the most famous of all Aphrodite images. Some say it has become a model for artists through the centuries because of its ability to capture her image so well.
Artists were inspired by the birth of Aphrodite for centuries. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is considered a masterpiece. However, the myth of the goddess would not stop there. Francois Boucher took a liking to Aphrodite and showed her in his painting The Triumph of Venus (1740). This painting led to a new style called Rococo. When defined, it means light, playful, and elegant- appropriate for Aphrodite. The painting itself shows a playful Aphrodite with her garment draped and body nearly bare.
J. A. D. Ingres also showed the birth of Aphrodite, but in a neoclassic manner in his painting Venus Anadyomene (1808). He was against the excesses of Rococo, so his image of the goddess is much more serious and less playful. The mood is much more serious and Aphrodite is shown not as the light, playful goddess of love, but a somber deity to be respected.
Aphrodite became extremely popular in the 19th century. There is a plethora of examples of her in various poses and artists produced numerous images of her in order to keep up with the collectors demand. It was good publicity for the goddess, but the quality of the artwork was compromised. The intellectual purpose that was seen in earlier Aphrodite works was lost. Alexandre Cabanel’s painting The Birth of Venus (1863) first appeared in the Salon of 1863. Its appeal to the public came through by way of its “refined eroticism”. Aphrodite is idealized and has no indication of any imperfections on her body. She appears somewhat passive, but more perfect than is humanly possible, conveying the image of a deity. With her hair flowing around her body, she is the male poster child of eroticism. She is voluptuous and has an accommodating feeling about her. This painting could be considered as Aphrodite done in the nineteenth century’s version of ancient and Renaissance styles.
Adolphe Bouguereau was another artist that fell into this category of compromised artwork. His painting Birth of Venus (1879) is spectacular in its own right, but the similarities between this and Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is painfully obvious. Even though there are a few differences in these two versions of Aphrodite’s birth, it is obvious that Bouguereau studied up on his Renaissance predecessor.
In a totally different perspective, Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painting Venus Standing in a Landscape (1529) shows Aphrodite alone in a garden, carrying a transparent garment and wearing a hat. He had a liking of painting women in hats, and this offers us just one more variation of the goddess. Cranach was well known for his skill at depicting female beauty. He specialized in female nudes, and Aphrodite was a common subject for artists. Venus Standing in a Landscape looks like it might draw on Italian Renaissance models, but is fundamentally different.
Up to now, the majority of the art discussed with Aphrodite has dealt with her birth. This is one of the most interesting myths and the art associated with it is extremely popular. Aphrodite also shows up regularly in depictions of the Judgment of Paris.
The Judgment of Paris is extremely important to Greek Mythology and to Aphrodite. She tells Paris that in exchange for Zeus’ golden apple he will get the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris gives it to Aphrodite over Hera and Athena, and gets Helen. The outcome is the Trojan War.
Numerous artists illustrate Aphrodite and the Judgment of Paris. This is probably because it lends itself to pastoral landscapes with beautiful goddesses appealingly posed. Peter Paul Reubens actually created two paintings on this topic. The latter is better known and the central focus of Paris is on Aphrodite. In The Judgment of Paris (1633), Reubens has the triumphant Aphrodite centered between the two goddess after she gets the apple from him. Aphrodite has a round, womanly figure, and still has a garment with her. One thing to note is that the goddesses are displaying their naked beauty, as is the case with the later artists. The artists of ancient Greece were more likely to emphasize the gifts that they would provide. After all it was Aphrodite’s gift that swayed Paris, not her appearance.
Lucas Cranach the Elder also created a painting entitled The Judgment of Paris (1530). Aphrodite is in the center of the goddesses again and much shapelier. Her posture is genuinely feminine and she is completely naked. Cranach preferred to paint nudes rather than clothed women. When comparing the appearances of Aphrodite between the two paintings, it appears that here she is younger and in the Reubens picture, much older. It is also seen that Paris’ age differs substantially.
After looking at numerous paintings of Aphrodite, there is no real set definition for what she would look like. Some have her as loosely feminine, others borderline masculine. Her postures and methods of dress change with the time period rather than finding a historical reference and sticking with it.
Aphrodite’s image was also seen by way of sculpture. The most famous statue of the goddess is the Aphrodite from Melos, better known as the Venus de Milo. Dating from the second-century BC, the head is very simple in both expression and hairstyle. These features give her face an almost masculine expression. Her lack of arms has invited many explanations, but the frontrunner is that they were simply damaged over the years due to wear and tear.
Statues of Aphrodite like Praxitiles’ Venus d’Arles (400-330BC) show us a full-bodied representation of Aphrodite. The Venus d’Arles was originally a shrine to the goddess in the Theatre Antique in Arles, France. It was found in 1683 and is now in the Louvre.
Since this statue is so old, it could have aided future artists in conceptualizing what Aphrodite looked like, or at least give them something to go on. The hair and face is still masculine, but she does have her traditional cloth garment.
When it is all said and done, Aphrodite’s stature as the goddess of love and fertility find their way onto the canvas or chiseled in stone. She is an ideal figure to capture because of the many ways in which the attributes she represents can be captured. Regardless of the artist or sculptor, her attributes are captured through the artists rendition accompanied by the influence of the time-period.
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