I was in London for a few days and had the opportunity to visit the British Museum.
This post is about a crouching Aphrodite in the Museum. All the photos are mine, unless stated otherwise.
The statue’s official description given by the Museum’s web site is:
“Marble statue of a naked Aphrodite crouching at her bath”
Roman, 2nd century AD; a version of an original from Hellenistic Greece
The woman portrayed is a young woman, who literally sits on a jug of water which she presumably used to bathe herself.
Aphrodite or not, the woman is ordinary. There is nothing exceptional about here.
There is a very strong sense of motion in her body.
The body is turned to the left, but the face is looking at something to her right.
There is a sense of surprise in her look.
Her right hand is almost touching her hair on the left.
The overall posture of the body seems to be unusual by today’s strandards, and this is not only because of the jug.
Why did she assume this highly uncomfortable position?
What was the reason she turned her head to her right?
Was her name Aphrodite? Or the artist named the model in such a way due to commercial reasons?
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).
(Source: British Museum’s website)
The three-dimensionality of the statue is typical of Hellenistic sculpture, as is the hairstyle with its elaborate top-knot. (Source: British Museum’s website)
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. (Source: British Museum’s website)
The way of expressing the human figure is realistic. The idealization of the classical period has gone.
Another classical feature that is absent is the focused sexuality of the female body.
I look at this body and it has strength, it has tension, it stands solidly on earth, but is not the body that invites to sexual pleasures by its posture or disposition.
Compare and contrast with this statue, which stands next to the crouching Aphrodite.
It is this unique ability of the artist to portray a normal woman taken by surprise after taking her bath that moved me. It is real, it is strong, it is right in front of you and makes a statement: “I exist”. The nakedness of the body is not shocking, or arousing. It comes naturally. This simplicity and directness and total respect for the unadulterated human body, makes this statue special.