ART FROM ANCIENT LANDS

Figure of a Reclining Aphrodite - LO.609
Origin: Syria
Circa: 100 AD to 300 AD
Dimensions: 4" (10.2cm) high x 9" (22.9cm) wide
Collection: Roman Imperial
Style: Eastern Province
Medium: Marble

Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, and deception, is depicted in an unusual attitude reclining on her side. She props up her body and supports its weight on her left elbow. The fingers of her left hand suggest that she was holding an attribute, perhaps to be identified as a wine vessel. Her right arm is elegantly stretched out along the contour of her body, its fingers gingerly resting on the lower part of her thigh. In keeping with ancient conventions of beauty, the goddess is both full-figured and corpulent, with emphasis placed on her hips and breasts. Of particular note are the so-called “rings of Venus” on her neck. She is shown turning her head to the spectator’s right and casts the glance of her originally inlaid eyes down and to the side. The small, full lips of her mouth and the treatment of her chin imbue the image with an eternally seductive quality.

Marble statuettes of this type are well-attested in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire and are particularly associated with Syria, as the numerous examples in the national museum at Damascus so amply demonstrate. Few of those examples, however, depict Aphrodite in this particular pose, and fewer still are possessed of the artistic quality of our erotically-charged example. Our reclining Aphrodite is also a significant art historical document because it stands at the head of a long series of Western representations of aristocratic women in the guise of Aphrodite reclining. These icons of Western art include Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres’ Odalisque (1814, Musée du Louvre, Paris) and, of course, Antonio Canova’s Pauline Borghese as Venus (1808, the Borghese Gallery, Rome).

References:

Abu-l-Faraj Al-Ush, et al, A Concise Guide to the National Museum of Damascus [translated by Muhammad Khalifa] (Damascus), pages 84-86, First Gallery, showcase no. 1 and no. 2.

- (LO.609)

 

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