Friday, December 29, 2006

A Neapolitan Aphrodite

A couple of months back, one of the memes floating around the blogosphere was The Greek Mythology Personality Test. When I took this test, I came out as Nemesis, but that's not particularly important. What I want to talk about is the illustration chosen for those whose result was Aphrodite. The creator of the test used this:



This is the Aphrodite Kallipygos, "Aphrodite of the Beautiful Arse". I make no apologies for the vulgarity. I'm translating Aristophanes at the moment, and pyge is a good Aristophanic word, for which translations such as 'buttocks' or 'behind' seem too tame.

There are many different 'types' or patterns of Aphrodite statues. You may be familiar with the coy nudity of the Capitoline Venus, or the disinterested self-regard of the Capuan Venus, of which the best-known example is the Venus de Milo. The Aphrodite Kallipygos is less well-known - I'm not aware of any other examples. But the Kallipygos is my favourite piece of ancient sculpture - I have loved it since first encountering it in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples back in 1999.

It is well-named, even if some argue that the statue described as the Aphrodite Kallipygos in antiquity, from the sanctuary of Aphrodite in Syracuse, was not the original of the statue in Naples. Attention is focused on the exposed bottom. If one goes around the other side of the statue, there is less emphasis on nudity, and certainly less than in the Capitoline and Capuan versions. The breasts are largely covered, though one nipple is exposed, and while the pubic area is not concealed, the drapery falls in such a way as to suggest that actually it is. And the tilt of the body is encouraging you to go round behind her. Again, the use of the drapery actually makes the body more erotic than the total nudity of other Aphrodites.

I like this statue because of the humour here, which I think is not to be found in much statuary. And, as anyone who has compared Priscilla Presley in Dallas and Priscilla Presley in The Naked Gun will know, a female who is funny is sexier than one who is not. I love the way that Aphrodite is caught checking out her own lines. She personifies a certain sort of shallow vanity, that can be found in many sitcoms - she is obsessed with ensuring that her body is as perfect as it can be. (The character Lydia Weston in Less Than Perfect is an example.) But of course, as she is divine, her vanity is justified. It is a beautiful arse.

Interestingly, the humour I see in this almost completely derives from the seventeenth-century restoration of the statue by Carlo Albacini. The sculpture was found in the area of Nero's Domus Aurea (and isn't it exactly the sort of statue you would expect that emperor to surround himself with?), and passed into the collection of the Farnese family. In those days, people restored the missing parts of statuary - in this case, including the head and shoulder. So Aphrodite's gaze is directed by Albacini; we really don't know if the original statue was depicted with her looking lovingly at her bottom. But I'd like to think that it was.

But I don't really care. What is important is that this statue delights me, and will continue to delight me, and I wish to introduce her to as many people as I can, so they may share my delight.

7 comments:

Brett said...

I must confess that when I first saw the photo, before scrolling down to read the rest of your post, my first thought was "nice ass"! I guess I get full marks for my art appreciation skills ...

Anonymous said...

Aphrodite's ass isn't really what I'm into (I'd like to see Ares'), but even I have to admit that "Kallipygos" is an apt moniker for her!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the photo - and what's especially vulgar about 'arse' anyway? I didn't know about this Aphrodite, but I think she is now my favourite!

I wonder if the presence of humour makes the statue seem more real and more alive and thus sexier? One could imagine going to bed with an Aphrodite who is human and vain and shallow enough to admire her own bottom (especially as it's so worthy of admiration), whereas one who gazes serenely into space is cold and distant, however lovely. Is that plausible, do you think?

Tony Keen said...

Carla, I think you're exactly right. Couldn't put it better myself.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I think 'beautiful bum' would work as well. Definitely gives a person a reason for a new year's resolution ...

Manuel said...

Very nice statue...

I like everything about her 8)

And congratulations for the blog, I will comeback more often.
I have a blog dedicated to ancient culture, but It's written in my first language: Portuguese. It has an automatic translator but the english looks awful.

Anonymous said...

Even my 8 year old liked the statue when we visited the Naples museum 6 years ago. The Aphordite and other sculpture and treasures were fantastic.