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"I will sing of stately Aphrodite, gold-crowned and beautiful, whose dominion is the walled cities of all sea-set Cyprus. There the moist breath of the western wind wafted her over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, and there the gold-filleted Hours welcomed her joyously. They clothed her with heavenly garments: on her head they put a fine, well-wrought crown of gold, and in her pierced ears they hung ornaments of orichalc [a highly prized copper alloy, perhaps brass] and precious gold, and adorned her with golden necklaces over her soft neck and snow-white breasts, jewels which the gold-filleted Hours wear themselves whenever they go to their father's house to join the lovely dances of the gods. And when they had fully decked her, they brought her to the gods, who welcomed her when they saw her, giving her their hands. Each one of them prayed that he might lead her home to be his wedded wife, so greatly were they amazed at the beauty of violet-crowned Cytherea."
Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (VI.1)
Lucan relates that one admirer was so enamored of the statue of Aphrodite that he contrived to be left alone with it over night, leaving a stain on the marble as a mark of his passion (Affairs of the Heart, XV-XVI; also Pliny, VII.127, XXXVI.21-22). That it could have been embraced by an admirer or so impetuously kissed implies at least that the statue was life-sized and on a low pedestal.
Pliny also speaks of Nicias "who was an extremely careful painter of female portraits....It is this Nicias of whom Praxiteles used to say, when asked which of his own works in marble he placed highest, 'The ones to which Nicias has set his hand'—so much value did he assign to his colouring of surfaces'" (XXXV.130, 133). Although it is not known whether Nicias actually did paint the Cnidia, Pliny's account of a collaboration between the two artists does allow the possibility.
It is likely that the hair was yellow or even gilded, as "golden" is the epithet mostly frequently applied to Aphrodite. Any jewelry, such as an armlet, also would have been in gilt, as may have been the water jar next to her. The eyes, too, would have been colored, as would her cheeks and lips and her discarded gown. Such delicate tinting presumably would have made casts impossible, which may account for such poor copies of the original statue.
A member of the Royal Academy, John Gibson was one of the first neoclassical sculptors to paint his marble statues. His Venus (1862), which is in the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool), holds the golden apple offered to her by Paris. It both entranced and scandalized Victorian society, and also suggests the same polychrome realism of the Cnidian Aphrodite.
Reference: Homeric Hymns (1914) translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White (Loeb Classical Library); Lucian: Amores (Vol. VIII) (1967) translated by M. D. MacLeod (Loeb Classical Library).
See also Amazons.
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