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Art History Formal Analysis: Aphrodite of Knidos vs. Venus de Milo

Updated on March 19, 2012
Aphrodite of Knidos
Aphrodite of Knidos


In Ancient Greece, there are two different sculptures that commonly come under fire for being overly sensual; especially for the time in which they were created. These two marble sculptures are Praxiteles’, “Aphrodite of Knidos,” and Alexandros of Antioch-on-the-Meanders’ “Venus de Milo,” which is another depiction of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. For the sake of shorthand, we will refer to “Aphrodite of Knidos,” as Figure 1 and “Venus de Milo,” as Figure 2. Figure 1 is a Roman copy that is currently located in the Vatican in Rome. Figure 2 is currently on display at the Louvre in Paris, France. Both of these sculptures display erotic scenes; however, they are conveyed in very different ways. Throughout this paper, I would like to explore the different ways in which these themes were accomplished.

In the case of Figure 1, the scene of nudity displayed seems much more intentional than that of Figure 2. This can be concluded by the placid look on Aphrodite’s face and how calmly she appears to be dealing with the situation. She is casually covering herself up with one hand, but is not doing a very good job of that. With her other hand, she is gently laying down her robe on a water basin most likely used for bathing. We can conclude that she was on her way to bathe when this moment was captured.

In the case of Figure 2, the scene of nudity displayed takes a very different form. She seems more caught in the moment. Neither Figure 1 nor Figure 2 really look aware of what is going on, but the Aphrodite in Figure 2 looks a bit more uneasy to me. Her jaw looks a little more clenched and does not possess quite as much of a placid look that Figure 1 is displaying; although they both do not look too alarmed.

The aspect that has historically made Figure 2 more erotic than that of Figure 1 is that the moment that is captured is right before the figure is completely undressed. Her covered up lower half leaves more to the imagination than Figure 1 does. The cloth in Figure 2 is not only covering the rest of her body but it is caught in the perfect moment of beginning to fall off without revealing anything too private. It is caught in a perpetual moment of anticipation for viewers. While viewing Figure 1, many people can become disinterested because all the elements of Aphrodite’s body is on display and there is nothing left to reveal after viewing it for a short while.

The details of Figure 2 seem to tell a much stronger narrative than that of Figure 1. The facial features are better defined as well as the hair. In Figure 1, it is hard to connect with the emotion of the piece because the face is not only placid but it is almost overly simplified making it not a prime target for human connection and sympathy. Although Figure 2 also exudes placidity, the curves and voluptuous nature of the facial features and hair make it more life-like which tends to draw out more human connection from its viewers.

It would have been interesting to see what the details of the forearms and the fingers would have been like on Figure 2. In Figure 1, the fingers are well defined and to me seem the most life-like out of the entire piece. It appears that more time was spent on the hands, robe, and water basin more than anything else. I am sure that the hands that were originally attached to Figure 2 matched the handiwork of the rest of the piece and would have done nothing but helped this piece. It is interesting; however, that the absence of the arms and hands make it so that all the attention is drawn to the falling drape. Art Historians are unsure of what the Aphrodite was originally doing with her hands. It would completely change the narrative if we knew such things as this. She could have been holding the drape up which would have taken away from the moment of anticipation; she also could have been covering herself more, but on the flip side of all of that she could have very well been flaunting her nudity making her less placid and unaware. All of these things we will never know but we are happy with narrative that the now arm-less figure provides the public.

One similarity between the two Figures is the placement of their feet. Although we cannot see the bottom half of Figure 2, we can see the indentation that her bent left leg is making on the drape. One leg is bent on both of them while the other stays relatively straight. This implies movement. We can infer from this that these Figures were not only unaware of the scene being caught, but they were also on their way somewhere. Movement adds to the narrative because when stationary figures are viewed it does not leave much to the imagination as to what they were doing when the moment was caught. However, in these Figure’s cases the narrative grows because we wonder where they are headed to or headed back from and if anyone was with them.

Overall, the beauty of these two figures cannot be measured but they can be admired for the boldness that they represented in the time of their creation.

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