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The Cult of Aphrodite

The Greek goddess Aphrodite has been the subject of works of art from as early as the 4th century B.C. in the colonies of ancient Greece. The most well-known depiction of Aphrodite is the famous Greek statue, Venus de Milo, by Alexandros of Antioch, in the collection of the Louvre, Paris. Controlling the heavens in her dove-drawn chariot, and the seas in her triton-drawn chariot, Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and fertility. She was syncretized with the Roman goddess Venus. The cult of Aphrodite in Greece derived from that of the Phoenician goddess Asarte, influenced by the cult of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar whose associations were sexuality and procreation. She was worshipped as a warrior goddess, and was also the patron goddess of prostitutes. Aphrodite has been portrayed as a complicated goddess, both generous and loving to those who respected her, and easily offended with a temper, bringing retribution on her enemies in brutal ways.

Over the millennia, the figure of Aphrodite has been portrayed in many ways and in many different materials. Versions of her partially clad in cloth, fully nude, combing her hair, riding in her chariots, and dancing with other gods exist in marble, terracotta, stone and ceramic. Myriad paintings, drawings and prints depict the goddess as their subject, many illustrating myths from Aphrodite’s life. In 364-361BC, Athenian sculptor Praxiteles carved the marble statue titled Aphrodite of Knidos which was praised by Pliny the Elder as being the greatest sculpture ever made.

A highlight in our upcoming East Meets West: Works of Art Across Cultures is a Greek terracotta depiction of Aphrodite from the late Hellenistic period (323-31 BC).   Aphrodite is shown here with a myrtle wreath in her hair, posed in a contrapposto position with draping along both sides and over her right leg. Her left foot is raised in a similar fashion as other early Greek examples that have a turtle under the foot. The surface of the figure has a lovely, layered and encrusted patina which adds to the beauty of the form. This figure was purchased by a distinguished collector from Galerie Archeologie in Paris and is now fitted on a stand to be shown to her best advantage. Also included in this sale is a smaller grey terracotta torso of Aphrodite from the same collection.

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