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Work Crouching Aphrodite

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Crouching Aphrodite

© 1997 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Hasselin-Rous Isabelle

Aphrodite, the goddess of love, a very popular subject in the Hellenistic period, is seen here taking her ritual bath. Both the theme of the crouching goddess and the sculptural character of the figurine derive from its being a faithful reproduction of an archetype, a statue of the crouching Aphrodite sculpted in the third or second century BC. Probably produced at Myrina, the figurine illustrates the interest of the city's craftsmen in the copying of sculpture, generally statues of women.

The Goddess Aphrodite at Her Bath

The figurine depicts a female nude crouched on her toes, with her right knee to the ground. Her head is lowered and turned to the right, a position explained by the raised arms: she is perhaps about to wring out from her hair the water indicated by the wet and rippling aspect of the two tresses that frame the delicate features. Earrings hang on either side of the attractive face with its extreme finesse, and on her head is a wreath adorned with three medallions. Together with the air of grace that envelops the naked figure, these suggest that represented here is no ordinary mortal at her bath, but the ritual ablutions of Aphrodite, goddess of love.

A Copy of a Celebrated Archetype

This exceptionally well-modeled figurine with its sculptural forms is in fact a copy of a celebrated archetype, a Hellenistic statue of the crouching Aphrodite. In its posture, it is faithful to the statue attributed to Doidalsas of Bithynia, dating from the third century BC. Yet the female flesh is here less generous, and the two-dimensionality of the composition, implying a single preferred point of view - looking into the face - suggest rather a model after the Aphrodite of Rhodes, of the second century BC.

A Product of the Myrina Terracotta Workshops

The fact that the figurine was found at Myrina (a wealthy city of Asia Minor that reached its zenith between 250 and 106 BC, when it was destroyed by an earthquake), as well as its polychromy and sculptural quality, suggest that it was a product of that city's workshops. In the Hellenistic period, these specialized in the reproduction of famous statues, especially female figures, just as Smyrna specialized mostly in male archetypes. Furthermore, the goddess Aphrodite was an extremely popular subject among the craftsmen of Myrina, who produced numerous terracotta figures of the goddess of love.
The production of this piece may be dated then to the second century BC, after the sculpting of the statue that served as its archetype, and during the heyday of coroplastic production at Myrina.

Bibliography

S. Besques, Catalogue raisonné des figurines et reliefs en terre cuite grecs, étrusques et romains II, 1963, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, p. 19, Myr. 18, pl. 18

Technical description

  • Crouching Aphrodite

    2nd century BC

    Provenance and manufacture: Myrina

  • H. 17.5 cm

  • French School of Athens excavations, 1883

    Myr 18

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Greek terracotta figurines
    Room 38
    Display case 13: The types of large sculpture

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