Aphrodite vs. Birth of Venus
Throughout the history of art the human form has captured artisans and their audiences. While the human form has always been acceptable in art, the nude female form continues to stir up controversy. Praxiteles was a famous artist during the Greek late classical period who sculpted and created controversy on the island of Knidos when he made Aphrodite of Knidos (350-340 B.C.). This new idea of a nude goddess made the island famous, putting it on the map as a tourist attraction. Approximately a 1,100 years later Sandro Botticelli took the idea of the nude goddess and depicted the same image in his painting The Birth of Venus (1482). This portrait was painted during the Early Italian Renaissance right after Girolamo Savonarola had placed strict boundaries and improvement for society. Despite there being tremendous beauty in both pieces, there are also distinct characteristics and features that make each work of art stand out.
At first glance there are many similarities between Aphrodite of Knidos and The Birth of Venus. The two figures have much in common; most obviously they are both female representations and both are quite nude. Many culture’s artists either did not have the talent to carve a complete three dimensional sculpture or were just fond of only frontal and peripheral views as sculptors from the Old Kingdom of Egypt gave us the slate statue of Menkhaure and Khamerenbty, a sculpture whose physical back is solely a flat rock surface. Our two pieces under study, in contrast, are fully three dimensional, sculptures in the round, are meant to be admired equally from any angle in which a viewer pleases: Front, back, side, looking down on it, or any other angle. Each piece has a carefully crafted head of hair (or possibly headdress in the case of
the Venus of Willendorf) probably to the latest style of their respective culture. They have both endured the wrath of nature and the clumsiness of mankind to last for thousands of years to come out as priceless symbols of history and art. The most meaningful characteristic of each work of art lies not in their physical description but behind the purpose of the work, the influence that sparked the first cut of each piece. In order to accomplish that, each sculpture deserves to be studied for its unique properties. Aphrodite and Venus may have been caught in an incident moment but both have casually managed to cover their most private parts. Venus is the only one who managed to cover most of her naked body with her long golden locks of hair. Botticelli seems to have been inspired by the style of Praxiteles, as his Venus looks more like Aphrodite. The way each goddess gestures with her hands attracts the eye, curiously onlookers wonder what the goddess has to hide. The artist, however, seems to have thought their respect of the goddess through by giving her at least a glimpse of privacy. Due to the circumstance of Aphrodite and Venus’ current vulnerable situation their facial expressions are surprisingly poised to the point of being smirk-like (Rosenzweig and Zuffi, 26-35, 89-105).
Although Praxiteles managed to carve a more accurate symmetrical depiction of the female form, Botticelli’s Venus with her long neck and sloping shoulders still manages to capture the softness that is demonstrated in Aphrodite of Knidos. The softness is the key to the similarities of these two forms, utilizing open composition to make audiences wonder what is so interesting or what piece of the story they are missing out on. Botticelli expands Venus’ likeness of Praxiteles’ Aphrodite as her skin is made to look like stone as if she is a sculpture. These stylistic similarities is what gives Aphrodite and Venus their allure and sensual sexuality. In the world of art one can never take the whole work at face value. Both Aphrodite of Knidos and Birth of Venus are icons in nature. Although Botticelli’s painting of Venus is...
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