Saturday, December 12, 2020

"Emerging" Aphrodite

This morning while searching for additional information about rare Roman funerary cippi recovered on Cyprus, I stumbled across this little figurine of "emerging" Aphrodite in the collections of the Museum of Cycladic Art. The reason it caught my attention is the pose is strikingly similar to the fresco of Venus in the triclinium of the House of the Prince of Naples that I studied earlier this year.  At the time, I was  wondering why the fresco was identified as Venus (Aphrodite) when the other main fresco in the room was identified as Bacchus (Dionysus), since Ariadne was the consort of Dionysus, not Venus.  Dr. Wallace-Hadrill had patiently explained to me that the goddess in the triclinium was identified as Venus because she is depicted wringing the sea water from her hair as described in Greek mythology (Hesiod's "Theogony" to be exact) but up until now I had never seen other ancient artwork with Venus in that particular pose.

According to the museum, the emerging Aphrodite was a common theme up to about the 1st century BCE, corresponding with the period leading up to Pompeii's destruction. The museum points out that, although Aphrodite was represented in Greek art as early as the 5th century BCE, the "emerging" Aphrodite was a creation of the Hellenistic period rather than the Classical period.

 "Some scholars believe that the type derives its origin from a famous painting of the emerging Aphrodite by the painter Apellis in the Asclepieion of Kos (second half of the 4th century BCE), which, like the pragmatic statue of Cnidia Aphrodite, is mentioned in innumerable ancient sources and seems to have contributed to the formation of a new model of female beauty in Hellenistic times. It is, after all, clear that the erotic dimension of Aphrodite emerges only during the Hellenistic period, when the naked depictions of the goddess increase and the word "Aphrodite" becomes synonymous with the erotic encounter. This fact is probably connected with an improvement of the social position of the woman and her release from the conservatism of the strictly male-dominated cities of the Classical era but also of classical art, which based its aesthetics on the worship of the male body." - Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece.

So the depiction of "emerging" Venus in the House of the Prince of Naples was not a questionable mismatch of consorts that I initially perceived as the less educated choice of art made by a merchant class resident seeking to project a more elite status, but simply a reflection of Pompeii's earlier Greek influence. much to learn about ancient art and so little time!! 


Fresco of Emerging Venus (Aphrodite) in the summer triclinium of the House of the Prince of Naples in Pompeii.

Terracotta  Figurine of "Emerging" Aphrodite, Hellenistic 200 BCE - 1 BCE courtesy of the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece.
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