Aphrodite of Knidos

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The Aphrodite of Knidos (or Cnidus) was an Ancient Greek sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite created by Praxiteles of Athens around the 4th century BCE. It is one of the first life-sized representations of the nude female form in Greek history, displaying an alternative idea to male heroic nudity. Praxiteles' Aphrodite is shown nude, reaching for a bath towel while covering her pubis, which, in turn leaves her breasts exposed. Up until this point, Greek sculpture had been dominated by male nude figures. The original Greek sculpture is no longer in existence; however, many Roman copies survive of this influential work of art. Variants of the Venus Pudica (suggesting an action to cover the breasts) are the Venus de' Medici and the Capitoline Venus.

Aphrodite of Knidos
Venus Pudica
Cnidus Aphrodite Altemps Inv8619.jpg
The Ludovisi Cnidian Aphrodite, Roman marble copy (torso and thighs) with restored head, arms, legs and drapery support
ArtistPraxiteles Edit this on Wikidata
Year4th century BC
Dimensions205 cm (81 in)


The Kaufmann Head in the Musée du Louvre

The Aphrodite of Knidos was commissioned as the cult statue for the Temple of Aphrodite at Knidos. It depicted the goddess Aphrodite as she prepared for the ritual bath that restored her purity, discarding her drapery with one hand, while modestly shielding herself with the other. The placement of her hands obscures her pubic area, while simultaneously drawing attention to her exposed upper body. The statue is famed for its beauty, and is designed to be appreciated from every angle.

Because the various copies show different body shapes, poses and accessories, the original can only be described in general terms; the body bending in a contrapposto position, an artistic innovation of Greek art which realistically portrays normal human stance, with the head probably turned to the left. Lucian said that she "wore a slight smile that just revealed her teeth", although most later copies do not preserve this.

The female nude appeared nearly three centuries after the earliest nude male counterparts in Greek sculpture, the kouros; the female kore figures were clothed. The Aphrodite of Knidos established a canon for the proportions of the female nude, and inspired many copies to follow its lead, the best of which is considered to be the Colonna Knidia, which is in the Vatican's Pio-Clementine Museum. A Roman copy, it is not thought to match the polished beauty of the original, which was destroyed in a disastrous fire at Constantinople in AD 475. According to an account by Pliny the Elder, Praxiteles sculpted both a nude statue and a draped statue of Aphrodite. The city of Kos purchased the draped statue, because they felt the nude version was indecent and reflected poorly on their city, while the city of Knidos purchased the nude statue. Pliny claims that the statue brought fame to Knidos. Coins issued in Knidos depicting the statue seem to confirm this claim.

Engraving of a coin from Knidos showing the Aphrodite of Cnidus, by Praxiteles

Praxiteles was alleged to have used the courtesan Phryne as a model for the statue, which added to the gossip surrounding its origin. The statue became so widely known and copied that in a humorous anecdote the goddess Aphrodite herself came to Knidos to see it. A lyric epigram of Antipater of Sidon[1] places a hypothetical question on the lips of the goddess herself:

Paris, Adonis, and Anchises saw me naked, Those
are all I know of, but how did Praxiteles contrive it?

A similar epigram is attributed to Plato:

When Cypris saw Cypris at Cnidus, "Alas!" said she; "where did Praxiteles see me naked?"

— Plato, Epigram XVII[2]

Temple in KnidosEdit

Aphrodite of Cnidus, Glyptothek Munich

The statue became a tourist attraction in spite of being a cult image, and a patron of the Knidians. Nicomedes I of Bithynia offered to pay off the enormous debts of the city of Knidos in exchange for the statue, but the Knidians rejected his offer. The statue would have been polychromed,[3] and was so lifelike that it even aroused men sexually, as witnessed by the tradition that a young man broke into the temple at night and attempted to copulate with the statue, leaving a stain on it. This story is recorded in the dialogue Erotes (section 15), traditionally attributed to Lucian of Samosata.[4] The same dialogue also offers the fullest literary description of the temenos of Aphrodite at Knidos:

The floor of the court had not been doomed to sterility by a stone pavement, but on the contrary, it burst with fertility, as behooves Aphrodite: fruit trees with verdant foliage rose to prodigious heights, their limbs weaving a lofty vault. The myrtle, beloved by the goddess, reached up its berry-laden branches no less than the other trees which so gracefully stretched out. They never know foliage grown old, their boughs always being thick with leaves. To tell the truth, you can notice among them some infertile trees, but they have beauty as their fruit. Such were the cypress and the planes which towered to the heavens, as well as the tree of Daphnis, who once fled Aphrodite but now has come here to seek refuge. Ivies entwine themselves lovingly around each of these trees. Heavy clusters of grapes hang from the gnarled vines: indeed, Aphrodite is only more attractive when united with Bacchus; their pleasures are sweeter for being mixed together. Apart, they have less spice. Under the welcome shade of the boughs, comfortable beds await the celebrants— actually the better people of the town only rarely frequent these green halls, but the common crowds jostle there on festive days, to yield publicly to the joys of love. (Pseudo-Lucian, Erotes)

Of the Aphrodite herself, the narrator resorts to hyperbole:

When we had exhausted the charms of these places we pressed on into the temple itself. The goddess stands in the center; her statue made of marble from Paros. Her lips are slightly parted by a lofty smile. Nothing hides her beauty, which is entirely exposed, other than a furtive hand veiling her modesty. The art of the sculptor has succeeded so well that it seems the marble has shed its hardness to mold the grace of her limbs (Pseudo-Lucian, Erotes)

Reception and audienceEdit

Praxiteles created two statues: one fully clothed and the other naked. Kos was horrified at the depiction of Aphrodite nude so they took the clothed statue. Knidos bought the remaining Aphrodite and she was installed in Knidos' sanctuary to the goddess, and thus gained a widespread cult-like following for its beauty. The statue was created for the temple of Aphrodite Euploia at Knidos and depicts a naked Aphrodite as she is interrupted while bathing.[5] The City of Knidos welcomed the Aphrodite statue and held very high regard for her.

The statue became a tourist attraction in spite of being a cult image, and a patron of the Knidians. Pliny the Elder notes the circumstances of the Aphrodite:

"Praxiteles in fact made two statues which he put up for sale together. One of them was draped, and because it was draped it was preferred by the people of Kos, who had first choice of the statues (which were offered at the same price). They thought this is the decent thing to do. But the statue they refused was taken instead by the people of Knidos, and it was this statue which became renowned. Later King Nicomedes [of Kos] tried to buy it from the Knidians, promising to discharge their enormous state debt. But the Knidians resolutely held on to their statue, and rightly so: for it was the work Praxiteles which make Knidos famous." (Natural History XXXVI.4.20-I)

The statue would have been polychromed,[3] and was so lifelike that it even aroused men sexually, as witnessed by the tradition that a young man broke into the temple at night and attempted to copulate with the statue, leaving a stain on it. This story is recorded in Pseudo-Lucian's Erotes (section 15): Lucian sails to Knidos, in which he calls it "Aphrodite's city", with two friends. One a Corinthian man, and the other an Athenian. They tour the entire city and then come upon the Aphrodite's temple. Once they get to the statue, and can observe that the figure is completely 'revealed', aside from her erogenous zones, Lucian's Corinthian friend gets very excited and promptly kisses the statue on the lips. The three companions make their way around the rotonda for a back view of Aphrodite and then Lucian's Athenian friend, who prefers boys, gets excited. As Lucian comments, he appreciates those parts 'which reminded him of boys': her "rounded thighs". The statue, nevertheless, brings all three men to tears of joy. After noticing a blot on the back of one of Aphrodite's thighs and not knowing what is meant by it, they ask the attendant priestess. She tells the visitors about a young boy who fell hopelessly in love with the statue who one night had locked himself in the temple. The blot on the Aphrodite was the boy's attempt to consummate his passion. Upon being discovered, he was so ashamed that he hurled himself over a cliff near the edge of the temple.[6]

Before this time it was not common for female statues to be depicted nude, simply because nudity was a heroic uniform assigned only to men. Heroic nudity served for the male viewer and its purpose was to bring visual pleasure to the viewer, who was inextricably male. When making the Aphrodite of Knidos, Spivey argues that her iconography can be attributed to Praxiteles creating the statue for the intent of being viewed by male onlookers.[7] Overwhelming evidence from aggregations suggests that the Knidian sculpture was meant to evoke male responses of sexuality upon viewing the statue, which were said to have been encouraged by the temple staff.[7]


The Knidian Aphrodite has not survived. Possibly the statue was removed to Constantinople (modern Istanbul), where it was housed in the Palace of Lausus; in 475, the palace burned and the statue was lost. It was one of the most widely copied statues in the ancient world, so a general idea of the appearance of the statue can be gleaned from the descriptions and replicas that have survived to the modern day. For a time in 1969, the archaeologist Iris Love thought she had found the only surviving fragments of the original statue, which are now in storage at the British Museum. The prevailing opinion of archaeologists is that the fragment in question is not of the Knidia, but of a different statue.

  • Probably the most faithful replica of the statue is the Colonna Venus conserved in the Museo Pio-Clementino, part of the collections of the Vatican Museums.
  • The Kaufmann Head, found at Tralles, purchased from the C.M. Kaufmann collection, Berlin, and conserved in the Musée du Louvre, is thought to be a very faithful Roman reproduction of the head of the Knidian Aphrodite.[8]
  • At Hadrian's Villa near Tivoli in Italy, there is a second-century recreation of the temple at Knidos with a fragmentary replica of the Aphrodite standing at the center of it, generally matching descriptions in ancient accounts of how the original was displayed.
  • At the Prado Museum.

As well as more or less faithful copies, the Aphrodite of Knidos also influenced various variations, which include:


  1. ^ Antipater, Greek Anthology XVI.168 [The author of this poem is listed as anonymous in the Loeb edition (The Greek Anthology Vol. V., p. 257).]
  2. ^ Edmonds, J. M., trans.; rev. John M. Cooper. "Epigrams". Plato: Complete Works. Ed. John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997. p 1744. Print.
  3. ^ a b Havelock, p.13. Pliny recounts that Praxilites valued most the sculptures of his that were painted by the hand of the Athenian Nikias, although he does not specifically link Nikias to the Knidian Aphrodite
  4. ^ See also the Hellenistic story of Pygmalion.
  5. ^ "The scandal of Praxiteles' Aphrodite". History Extra. Retrieved 2017-12-21.
  6. ^ Spivey, Nigel. "Revealing Aphrodite" from "Understanding Greek Culture". pp. 173–186.
  7. ^ a b Spivey, Nigel. Revealing Aphrodite. p. 181.
  8. ^ "The head from Martres Tolosanes and, especially, the so-called Kaufmann appear to me the best extant replicas" (Charles Waldstein, "A Head of Aphrodite, Probably from the Eastern Pediment of the Parthenon, at Holkham Hall", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 33 (1913:276-295) p. 283; "general agreement on the genuineness of the Kaufmann Collection Aphrodite as a replica of the Cnidian aphrodite" (Robert I. Edenbaum, "Panthea: Lucian and Ideal Beauty" The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism" 25.1 (Autumn 1966:65-700 p. 69.


  • Theodor Kraus. Die Aphrodite von Knidos. Walter Dorn Verlag, Bremen/Hannover, 1957.
  • Leonard Closuit. L'Aphrodite de Cnide: Etude typologique des principales répliques antiques de l'Aphrodite de Cnide de Praxitèle. Éditions Pillet - Martigny, 1978.
  • Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny. Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500–1900. Yale University Press, New Haven/London, 1981.
  • Christine Mitchell Havelock. The Aphrodite of Knidos and Her Successors: A Historical Review of the Female Nude in Greek Art University of Michigan Press, 1995.
  • Cyril Mango, "Antique Statuary and the Byzantine Beholder", Dumbarton Oaks Papers 17 (1963), pp. 53–75.

External linksEdit