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Posted on May 7th, 2014, by

The next example also belonging to the Classical period is the red-figured squat jar used either for oil or perfume. It is also called a lekythos and is attributed to the Meidias Painter (Figure 2). The jar was made in Athens, Greece between 420 and 400 B.C. The title of the image is “Aphrodite in the Gardens.”¯

Here Aphrodite is still dressed plentifully, and the image presents a picture with a specific plot. The style of the Meidias Painter and his associates is recognized by such characteristics as the elegant faces of women, the garden scene itself and, after all, their rich, multi-pleated drapery (Mallory & Adams 44). The names of each of the characters is written in white letters alongside the jar. Aphrodite is imaged as a seated figure, with her winged son Eros on her shoulder. To the right is Peitho, the goddess of Persuasion. In the picture she is attaching sprays of leaves to a kanoun (a basket used in processions). To the left there are three female figures. These are Kleopatra, Eunomia and Paidia. Each of them are personifications of certain dignities, and the interpretations are also written on the jar: Kleopatra is “Of noble parentage”¯, Eunomia stands for “Good Order”¯, and Paidia is responsible for “Games and Playfulness”¯ (Mallory and Adams 45). The goddess is offered fruit or a necklace from them, and thus the contemporary issues of philosophy are reflected. This was a time when the cults of personifications were rising: each dignity or sphere of human life and relationships was personified by a female or male character.

As for the depiction of a rich and peaceful garden, there are several explanations. On the one hand, it was the Athenian cult of the late 5th century which stressed the links of the goddess with nature and vegetation, their renewal and rebirth (Mallory and Adams 45). On the other hand, it was probably an act of escapism. At that time the Athenians were involved in war with the Peloponnesians, and the master expressed his wish to forget about the devastating fighting and to run for a garden paradise with its beauty, peace and harmony.

Now we turn to the Hellenistic period. The cult of Aphrodite was prospering, but there were certain changes in how the goddess was approached. While earlier she was more in charge of physical pleasure and procreation, with time she received the status of something loftier and more exalted. For example, this is a Haviland bronze statuette of Aphrodite from the Late Hellenistic period (Figure 3). The statuette belongs to the late 2nd or early 1st century B.C. This is a unique object, because statuettes of such height (18 inches, or 45.7 cm) were not typical for this period. It is not known for certain who is depicted in the statuette, but it is normally recognized as Aphrodite. Here she is already absolutely naked, and thus the statuette becomes an act of worshiping female beauty and grace. The pose of the goddess is quiet, not motional; her arms are raised and bent sharply at the elbows, while her head is slightly inclined to the left shoulder. Unfortunately, the left arm is missing, but for specialists that is not a problem, while they base their arguments on a number of similar figures like the Pourtales Aphrodite in the British Museum, which are, however, smaller in size.

Another interesting detail is the hair of Aphrodite. It is fastened in a knot; the knot is tied with a fillet, then, it is wound twice round the head and decorated with a meander pattern (Richter 32). The outlines of the pattern can be seen, though they are rather faint.

As for the position, here it is hypothetically of lifting a necklace or a garland. In fact, it is the quiet grace of the figure’s composition together with the refined modeling that makes the specialists attribute the work to the Greek workmanship of the 4th century, simultaneous with Praxiteles.

Finally, one more Hellenistic artwork is the marble group of Aphrodite, Pan and Eros (Figure 4). This work was made in Delos, in the Cyclades, around 100 B.C. The sculpture, made of Parian marble, is 1.55 m tall. On the base of the sculpture there is an inscription that this group was dedicated to the ancestral gods by Dionysios of Berytos (modern Beirut). Here we see Aphrodite again naked, next to her is the goat-footed god Pan and above them is Eros, her son and messenger. It is often explained that Pan is trying to seduce the goddess and is just making erotic advances in the picture, while Aphrodite is fending him off and threatening the goat-footed god with the sandal in her right hand. The role of the winged god is typically to defend her.

However, such a description is sometimes disputed. G. W. Elderkin undertakes a research to identify the links between Aphrodite and Pan to find an alternative explanation of the scene. In particular, there are several traces of Aphrodite appearing in the myths together with a goat or even on a goat. There is also a story connecting the goddess with the character Aigeus, whose name is translated as “goat”¯ too. For Elderkin the intimate relation between Aigeus and Aphrodite is obvious. It was Aigeus who presented the cult of the goddess to Athens in the 5th century B.C. (Elderkin 381). In the view of G. W. Elderkin (382), none of the figures expresses a sign of struggle, and the goddess does not look alarmed. Eros is explained to be satisfied for his efforts on uniting the two. Besides, it is doubtful that a donor from Beirut could be inspired by a scene of Aphrodite’s resistance to the goat-footed god as it was not a typical sphere of interest for Beirutian. Exploring many other related objects, the researcher comes to the conclusion that footwear at that time was used an important indication of erotic intentions.

In this way, the development of the theme of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, has been traced through the Classical and Hellenistic periods of Greek art. Significant differences in approach have been revealed, and the main shift is that the image of Aphrodite became more undisguised and sensual. The association with the practice of ritual prostitution was later abandoned, and the attitude to the goddess influenced the way she was depicted. Besides, the scenery and background has acquired more details, many of which have symbolic meaning and reflect religious, social, economic and political views of the Greek.

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