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Aphrodite and the Gods of Love

Aphrodite may be the best known of all the classical Greco-Roman goddesses, recognized for her beauty, and as symbol of love and lust. Her allure has been spoken of for centuries; the Aphrodite of Knidos sculpted by Praxiteles in the 4th century B.C. was the first life-size female nude, both shocking and titillating its contemporary viewers.


Currently on view at the Cowden Gallery, San Antonio Museum of Art is the exhibit, “Aphrodite and the Gods of Love,” surprisingly the first US exhibition devoted to the Goddess.

Head of Aphrodite (Bartlett Head), Greek, 330–300 BC [Credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]
The exhibit features over 150 works from the MFA’s Greek and Roman collection, among the finest holdings in the United States, and includes 13 important loans. Among the loans is “Sleeping Hermaphrodite” who at first glance looks like a provocatively prone woman, but when viewed from the front reveals itself to have male genitalia; it has only left Italy one time previously.

Statuette of Aphrodite emerging from the sea, Greek or Roman, 1st century BC or 1st century AD [Credit: Museum Fine Arts, Boston]
The exhibit begins the Goddess’ birth near the island of Cyprus. For centuries, Aphrodite has been portrayed as rising fully formed out of the sea foam. This is in keeping with the myth that portrays Aphrodite as coming into being when Kronos, a Titan, castrated his father Ouranus---an act that Zeus would recreate with his own father Saturn. From the severed genitals of Kronus, subsequently flung into the sea, Aphrodite would emerge (her name even means “born from foam.”) Despite this inauspicious beginning, she was at once a beautiful and entrancing being.

Aphrodite Spanking Eros, Greek, 200–1 B.C. Bronze, 11 5/16 in. high [Credit: Museum Fine Arts, Boston]
Aphrodite was important to Greek women as she was seen as exerting influence over not only love, but marriage as well, ironic given Aphrodite’s own lack of concern over the sanctity of marriage. For men, she was viewed as a deity who could potentially aid virility and combat. This exhibit takes us though various incarnations of Aphrodite, as well her children, including the incorrigible Eros and lascivious Priapus.

Aphrodite and the Gods of Love was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Where: Cowden Gallery, San Antonio Museum of Art

When: September 15, 2012—February 17, 2013

Author: Christine Bolli | Source: San Antonio Museum of Art [October 5, 2012]]

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