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Work Aphrodite Untying Her Sandal

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

Aphrodite unfastening her sandal

© 1999 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This bronze statuette, which is probably of Syrian origin, demonstrates the importance of the cult of Aphrodite in the eastern regions of the Roman Empire. It is inspired by a famous statue of the Hellenistic period, which subsequently was copied many times: the goddess, who appears entirely nude, is untying one of her sandals. The theme, offering a pretext for sensitive observation of the female body, is in the tradition of classical sculpture.

The motif of Aphrodite untying her sandal

This bronze statuette is one of numerous works from the Clerq collection that entered the Louvre in 1967, thanks to the Boisgelin donation. The work probably comes from Syria and is a reduced-sized Roman replica of a famous original from the Hellenistic period. The goddess Aphrodite is represented entirely nude, wearing nothing but gold bracelets. Leaning against a pillar that is now lost, she is about to remove her sandal from her left foot. In her other hand she is holding an apple, a traditional attribute of Aphrodite, or perhaps a ball of makeup. The figure is captured as she balances precariously, in a self-consciously counterbalanced pose that highlights the nudity and sensuality of the goddess.

The cult of Aphrodite during the Roman Period

During the Roman period, the cult of Aphrodite had many followers in Syria and Egypt. The goddess, protector of women and marriage, appeared there as a Hellenized form of the indigenous divinities Isis, Hathor, and Astarte. Some marriage contracts from the first few centuries after Christ included a bronze statuette or, more rarely, a silver statuette of the goddess in the list of parapherna-objects, not included in a woman's dowry, that remained her property after marriage. The lararium in a house might also contain an effigy of Aphrodite. Produced in local workshops, these figurines were generally adapted from famous statues of the goddess. The same iconographic types were also used in small terracotta sculptures, which were sometimes endowed with attributes derived from the religious syncretism of Hellenistic beliefs.

Origins of a popular motif of the Hellenistic and Roman periods

A favorite motif in Hellenistic art, the nude Aphrodite lacing up or unlacing her sandal was still frequently depicted during the Roman period. The types of Aphrodite, elaborated by Praxiteles around the middle of the fourth century BC, were constantly reprised in pastiches and more or less faithful replicas, and on coins, engraved stones, and vases. It seems that this theme appeared during the Classical period, probably first in painting, then sculpture, in figures as different as Nike, Eros, and young girls of the gynaeceum. One of the sculpted Victories on the parapet of the temple of Athena Nike, on the Acropolis in Athens (late fifth century BC), offers a famous antecedent of the statuary type reproduced in the Louvre bronze. The artist and date of the much copied original have often been disputed: many people believe the replicas to have been inspired by a bronze sculpture made during the late third century BC by Polymachos; some speak of a work in the tradition of sculptures by Lysippos and paintings by Apelles; while others think the original was created in a workshop in Alexandria.

Bibliography

E. Kunzl, Venus vor dem Bade - ein Neufund aus der Colonia Ulpia Traiana und Bemerkunden zum Typus der "Sandalenlösenden Aphrodite", Bonner Jahrbücher 170, 1970, p. 124, p. 136, p. 153, n B 48.C. M. Havelock, Hellenistic Art, New York, 1968, n 87, p. 122-123.

Technical description

  • Aphrodite unfastening her sandal

    Roman period

    Provenance: Syria?

  • Bronze
    Gold jewelry added

    H. 22.2 cm

  • De Clercq collection, Boisgelin gift, 19

    Br 4417

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 32, temporarily closed to the public, works n
    Display case M8: Roman Aphrodites

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