In the fourth century BC the sculptor Praxiteles created a life-size naked statue of Aphrodite (Venus). It was placed in a shrine in her temple at Knidos in south-western Turkey. It was an important innovation in classical sculpture, and subsequent Hellenistic sculptors created several new types of nude Aphrodite figures, that further emphasized the sexual nature of her cult. This trend perhaps reflected both the rising social status of women and changes in male attitudes towards women: previously only male statues had been naked.
Most of these statues show Aphrodite ineffectually attempting to cover her nakedness with her hands. The action in fact only succeeds in drawing the viewer’s eye towards the sexual areas. In this statue the voluptuous Aphrodite crouches down and turns her head sharply to her right, as if surprised by her audience.
The three-dimensionality of the statue is typical of Hellenistic sculpture, as is the hairstyle with its elaborate top-knot. Another figure of Aphrodite in The British Museum (Sc. 1578) could almost be the same figure standing up. Other versions of the crouching Aphrodite are known: some have an additional figure of Eros, the god of love, while others show the goddess kneeling on a water jar to indicate that she is bathing.
This statue is sometimes known as ‘Lely’s Venus’ since it once belonged to the baroque portrait painter Sir Peter Lely (1618-80). It was subsequently acquired by King Charles I (reigned 1625-49). (x)