Although thousand years have passed, Greek art is still extremely appealing for historians, archaeologists, culture experts, art critics and other specialists. That fact is of no surprise inasmuch as the art of ancient Greece has made a profound impact on the art of other nations throughout the life of mankind. What is more, the matchless skill, variety and depth of the ancient Greek works, recognized for their humanist aesthetics and high technical standards, still inspire the artists in different corners of the world. The finest artists of the world have been actively reproducing and copying their styles and techniques through the ages. Moreover, the tradition of Greek art became “classic”¯ for the Western civilized world, and the significance of Greek pottery, architecture, figurines, ceramics, paintings, coins and other heritage cannot be overestimated. Actually they provide priceless information on Greek history and social development, technical progress and way of life, religious cults and rituals, leisure activities, holidays, traditions, customs and other peculiarities.
In particular, many researchers pay attention to the cult of Aphrodite in Greek art. Being an ancient goddess of sexual love and beauty, Aphrodite has provoked a lot of works in poetry, literature, drama, sculpture, painting, music, architecture and so on. There is no surprise this goddess has become so appealing and inspiring for poets, writers, sculptors etc. But even more curious is to explore how the attitude to this figure was changing through centuries. As Greek art experienced modifications and shifts in exploring the world of physical and spiritual entities, the way Aphrodite was imaged was changing too. This research has been undertaken to explore in what way it was changing and what the reasons and grounds for those changes were.
The theme of Aphrodite is one of the attractive and challenging themes in the Greek art. There are a lot of controversial data around this goddess, but in any way there were plenty of reasons to produce and reproduce her image again and again. In general, she is considered as the goddess of love and beauty as well as fertility and sex appeal. According to Homer's Iliad (ca. 1194”“1184 B.C.), Zeus proclaimed that fighting was not for Golden Aphrodite and that she was in charge of wedlock and tender passions. Empedocles (c.Ā 493 ”“ c.Ā 433 B.C.), in turn, described her as a queen “with perfumes of varied fragrance and with sacrifice of pure myrrh and sweet-scented frankincense, casting to the ground libations of golden honey”¯ (Witt 102). Here the difference can already be seen in how the person of the goddess was accepted. In the times of Homer (around the 8th century B.C.), Aphrodite was more known as a “goddess of rape”¯, “a departmental goddess, having for her sphere one human passion”¯ (Witt 103), and much later, by the times of Empedocles (the 5th century B.C.) she was associated with romantic love and beauty. At the same time, temptation was not always her responsibility. Among Greek people the goddess received the title of “Heavenly”¯ to underline that her essence is far from bodily lust and signifies pure spiritual love. Though, whereas in earlier images Aphrodite is dressed in beautiful attractive clothes of the time, later she more often appears nude, without clothes at all, as no clothes are needed to hide her ideal beauty. There are really a great number of images depicting the goddess, and this amount reveals how important her cult was for Greek society, though initially it was imported from other lands.
One of the oldest objects with the image of Aphrodite is the white-ground cup, attributed to the Pistoxenus Painter (Figure 1). It is probably the main and one of the earliest exponents from the Classic period to demonstrate traditional white-ground decoration. It belongs to the period around 470 B.C. The pattern of production of such objects became more fluid somewhere between the late Archaic and early Classic periods. In the first quarter of the 5th century white-ground cups were popularized as they came from places of major religious centers (Athens, Aegina; Delphi, Samos and so on). The cup under consideration is believed to be made in collaboration with Euphronios. This tandem is well-known for their intense preoccupation and highly skillful technique (Mertens 93). This is a work of the Classical period, and for this period it is a typical demonstration of the high degree of stylization, the application of color effects and creation of the motion impression.
Here Aphrodite is completely dressed as a Greek woman of those times. She is poised serenely on the back of a goose, and this is not casual. At that time she was often depicted with different animals, especially doves, swans and geese. On the one hand, this was a sign of her belonging to nature, but at the same time of her closeness to the sky. The existence of the title “Aphrodite Urania”¯ (an epithet for the goddess used in the Greek poetry) is reinforced in this way for the heavenly goddess patroning animals. On the other hand, the birds are used metaphorically, as symbols of either passion or spiritual height and peace. Beneath the painting a viewer can see the preliminary sketch with the goddess facing frontally and having an exergue.