Aphrodite Anadyomene

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This free-standing marble sculpture represents Aphrodite Anadyomene, or the recently-born goddess, emerging from the sea accompanied by Eros or a cupid, as narrated in Hesiod’s poem Theogonia (verses 188-206). Given its size it was probably neither for public nor for private worship. It was possibly a piece meant for ornamental or decorative use, given that this element became very popular as decoration in thermal baths in the Roman period.

Aphrodite was the goddess of beauty, love and fertility, embodying the primal forces of the Creation. From the 3rd century BC, she was identified with Venus by the Romans, their local divinity related to the same forces. The goddess, according to Hesiod, was born from foam – the sperm – in the surrounding sea which came from the cut-off genitals of Uranus. In the origins of the Universe, Uranus (the Heavens) mated with Gea (the Earth), engendering various children. But out of fear that they would take the throne from him, he kept them imprisoned in the body of their mother. Cronus, tired of this situation, managed to gain power, castrating his own father and throwing the genitals into the sea:

“From the middle of the foam a young woman was born. At first she floated ashore towards the divine Cythera and from there she went to Cyprus… The august and beautiful goddess emerged from the sea, and around her delicate feet grew grass. (…) At first when she was born, and later when she went to join the body of the gods, Eros accompanied her as did the handsome Himeros. And she possessed these attributes (…): intimacy with young maidens, smiles, deceptions, sweet pleasure, love and tenderness.”

Although the extremities of the goddess are missing, it is possible to appreciate the beauty of the piece in the careful execution and the smooth modelling of the female lines. Aphrodite is standing naked in slight contrapposto. Her weight falls over her left leg and the right is slightly bent. However, the stability of the piece depends on the massive support on the left side, where Eros or a cupid would have been placed.

Eros was the personification of love: the son of Aphrodite and Hermes or Ares, according to different myths. His iconography as a robust child of three or four years of age was established from the 4th century BC on. He was presented as a happy infant playing with various animals, especially with dolphins, birds, etc. (Louvre Museum, CA635). In this piece he appears riding on the back of a dolphin. The same can be seen in other similar models: the caudal fin of the cetacean is raised above the head of the child, who appears astride the creature with the right arm raised and the left holding onto it. In our piece we can only observe the head of the cupid, showing the chubby cheeks of the infant and his curly hair.

Although the head of Aphrodite is missing, the line of breakage at the neck would indicate that she would have been looking downward. The breakage lines of the arms suggest that the goddess was trying to cover her nudity: the positioning of the left shoulder seems to suggest that the arm descended in front of the torso, perhaps to cover her sex, while the right lifts outward from the body perhaps to grasp her wet hair or part of a cloak. Another possibility is that both arms were raised holding onto her hair. Although the birth of this goddess was represented in pottery from the 5th century BC (red-figure Attic hydria, Museo Civico di Archeologia Ligure, Genoa), is known that the sculptural prototype of Aphrodite was used by artists to exhalt the qualities that the goddess embodied: beauty, erotic attraction and sexual desire.

As the monuments document, this iconography was such a radical innovation in the representation of the goddess as it was in the 4th century BC with Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Cnidus. It is certain that the theme of the Anadyomene had already appeared in the most ancient relief art, but at first it was only transformed into sculpture on a large scale of the type of a naked Aphrodite, who, leaning forward in a suggestive manner and with a cloak knotted in front of her legs, offers the sight of a beautiful body without exposing her imitate parts. As opposed to this, the totally naked Aphrodite Anadyomene standing straight up and with raised arms, exhibits her entire body to the viewer. In any case, this pose must not be understood in any way as an indication of immodesty on the part of the goddess. Rather it is the epiphany of the all-powerful deity of love, who emerges from the waves before the fascinated gaze of the marine creatures who accompany her.

Praxiteles has been credited with the creation and popularisation of the models of Aphrodite naked, that at Arles (Louvre Museum MR365) and the Cnidus or Modest Aphrodite (c. 360 BC), where the goddess is represented while she is taking a purifying bath. However, it is Apelles to whom tradition assigns the role of creator of the Anadyomene model, emerging from the foam and wringing out her wet hair with her hands, around the year 340 BC (Venus of Cyrene, Museum of Antiquities, Libya).

The prototypes mentioned spread widely around the Mediterranean basin. Among these the so-called Aphrodite of Syracuse (also known as the Landolina) stands out especially. This Hellenistic model had much success with Roman sculptors and was widely accepted in Hispania, as can be seen from the numerous works conserved in our museums (National Archaeological Museum, inv. 2002/114/23; National Museum of Roman Art CE00088 and CE00680; Archaeology Museum of Seville inv. REP05396).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

- BLANC, N., GURY, Fr. «Eros». 1986. n 157-192, LIMC III.
- DELIVORRIAS, A. «Aphrodite». 1984. n 349-786, LIMC II.
- ELVIRA BARBA, M. A. Arte y Mito. Manual de Iconografía Clásica. Madrid. 2008.
- ESTEBAN SANTOS, A. Iconografía de la mitología griega. Dioses II: Los grandes Olímpicos. Madrid. 2011.
- GIULIANO, A. Museo Nazionale Romano. Le Sculture. 1979. Vol. I. 1. Pag. 170 y ss., n 115.
MANSUELLI, G.A. Galleria degli Uffizi. Le Sculture I. Rome. 1958. Pag. 128 (commentary nº 89).
- MARTÍN DE LA TORRE, A. La Venus de Itálica. Ampurias, 3. 1941. Pag. 140-141.
- SIMON, E. Die Geburt der Aphrodite. Berlin. 1959.

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