Praxiteles

Summary

Praxiteles (in ancient Greek Πραξιτέλης

His life is very poorly known: if his period of activity goes from 375 to 335 B.C., we do not even know with certainty his dates of birth and death. Tradition makes him the son of the sculptor Cephisodotus and the father of two other sculptors, Cephisodotus the Younger and Timarchus. Ancient sources also mention his relationship with his model, the courtesan Phryne. She is supposed to have inspired one of the most famous statues of Antiquity, Aphrodite of Knidos. Thus Praxiteles is the first artist to have represented the female nude in the great Greek sculpture.

The exact dates of Praxiteles are only approximate (around 370-330), but it is likely that he was no longer working at the time of Alexander the Great (356-323).

No original can be attributed to his hand with certainty, but many statuary types are linked to him and have come down to modern times through Roman copies, terracotta figurines or coins. Among the most famous are the Apollo sauroctone, the Diana of Gabies, the Eros of Centocelle, the Hermes carrying Dionysus as a child, the Satyr at rest, the pouring Satyr or the Venus of Arles. Recent discoveries or rediscoveries, such as the Satyr of Mazara del Vallo or the Despinis Head, have also reopened the debate on what we think we know about the art of Praxiteles.

Little is known about the life of Praxiteles: we do not even know with certainty the year of his birth nor that of his death. Literary sources abound about him, but they are late: they do not date before the third century BC.

Pliny the Elder places his floruit (apogee) during the 104th Olympiad (i.e. 364-361 BC) and gives the sculptor Euphranor as his contemporary. This chronological range is corroborated by a statue base signed by Praxiteles, which bears the dedication of “Kleiokratéia, wife of Spoudias”: this Spoudias is known as the opponent of Demosthenes in a plea dating from 361 BC. Pausanias quotes “the third generation after Alcamenes”, pupil of Phidias, for the group of the Letoids of Mantinea. It is generally considered that Praxiteles was born around 395

Family

The name “Praxiteles” means “the one who completes”, “the one who carries out”; the Greeks give it rather to boys. The other known Praxiteles are sculptors, politicians or poets. The discovery of a dedication dated in the middle of the 4th century B.C. to a Praxiteles at Lebadée made one think that it could be the epiclesis (cult name) of a local deity or a hero. It has been objected that it could also be a dedication to Praxiteles, the sculptor – a practice attested elsewhere.

Praxiteles proclaimed himself an Athenian citizen in an inscription found in Leuctra. He is probably the son of the sculptor Cephisodotus, known for his statue of Peace bearing Wealth, although the filiation cannot be established with certainty: Praxiteles does not mention his father”s name in his signatures, and the floruit cited by Pliny for Cephisodotus, the 102nd Olympiad (i.e. 372-369 B.C.), seems to be very close to that of his son. The fact that one of Praxiteles” sons is also called Cephisodotus tends however to corroborate the filiation: the Greek custom is that the eldest son bears the name of his paternal grandfather. It is also possible that Cephisodotus is not the father, but the father-in-law of Praxiteles. In any case, it is likely that Cephisodotus brought the young Praxiteles into his workshop at an early age: it is known that sculptors could start working at the age of 15.

The link between Praxiteles and Cephisodotus the Younger is attested by mentions of Plutarch, as well as on several inscriptions, which also quote another son, Timarchos. Pliny places their flowering during the 121st Olympiad (i.e. 296-293 BC). It is generally estimated that Cephisodotus the Younger was born around 360 BC. An inscription linked to the latter specifies that the family comes from the demesne of Sybrides (it was however suggested that it related to another family whose members would have borne the same name.

The family of Praxiteles was lost between 280 and 120 B.C. There are reports of a portraitist named Praxiteles, active in Athens during the first century B.C., perhaps a descendant of the fourth-century sculptor.

Phryne

Literature reports a multitude of anecdotes linking Praxiteles to the courtesan Phryne: these are the only ones that provide biographical elements on the sculptor. However, it is difficult to disentangle truth from fiction.

The main title of glory of Phryne is to have inspired the Aphrodite of Cnide:

“, at the time of the festival of Eleusinia, and at the time of that of Poseidon, removed her clothes and untied her hair in front of all the assembled Greeks and dived into the sea; after her, Apelles painted the Aphrodite Anadyomena; and the sculptor Praxiteles, her lover, sculpted the Aphrodite of Cnidus on her model.”

According to Pliny, Praxiteles made two statues: one covered with a veil, the other naked. People from the island of Cos who came to his workshop chose the clothed version, “finding it modest and severe”, while those from Cnidus, in Asia Minor, bought the nude version.

Phryne would also have been the model of the Aphrodite of Thespia (of which the Venus of Arles would be a Roman copy), of a laughing courtesan and of two portraits. The first of these is located in Thespias, his birthplace, next to the Aphrodite. The other, in gilded bronze, is dedicated by Phryne herself in Delphi: it would have appeared between the king of Sparta Archidamos II and Philip II of Macedonia, thus exciting the anger of the Platonist Cratès wanted to recognize these portraits in the Aphrodite Townley or in that of the tower of the Winds.

In an anecdote almost as famous, Pausanias tells how she was offered the Eros of Thespia: Praxitèle promises her “the most beautiful of his works” but refuses to specify which one it is. A slave sent by her comes to warn the sculptor that his workshop is in flames; this one exclaims that all is lost if the Satyr and the Eros disappear. Thus Phryné chooses Eros, which she consecrates in the temple of the god in Thespies. This anecdote, like that of the purchase of the Aphrodites by the people of Cos and Knidos, lends credence to the idea that Praxiteles worked in his workshop in Athens and that buyers came to him, rather than the other way around: the mention of a large number of works in Asia Minor does not necessarily mean that the sculptor would have made a tour there.

The list of offerings that can be reconstructed in the literature allows us to sketch a rough chronology. First of all, Thespia was destroyed by Thebes in 371 B.C., the day after the battle of Leuctres, and was not rebuilt until 338 B.C. It is supposed that Phryne came to Athens after the destruction of her native city. The offering of Eros would thus have been made between these two dates, with a city in ruins, whose only temples still functioned. On its side, the offering of its portrait in Delphi is necessarily placed after the third sacred war, that is to say after 345-346 BC, the sanctuary having been devastated by the Phocidians during the conflict.

Beyond these offerings, it has been assumed without real reason that Praxiteles was a young man at the time of his meeting with Phryne. The Satyr of the Rue des Trépieds and the Eros of Thespies would be placed at the beginning of his career, which allows one to recognize the former in the type of the pouring Satyr, stylistically closer to the first classicism, and to place the type of the Satyr at rest at the end of his career. The Aphrodite of Arles (known as the Venus of Arles), also marked by the influence of Polyclitus, would belong to the same period. Added to this is the fact that this Aphrodite is “only” half-naked, Praxiteles preparing the public before the total nude of his Aphrodite of Knidos, which would be situated at the sculptor”s flowering (364-361 B.C.) and would crown an affair begun earlier. This reconstruction, born by Furtwängler, is based on anachronistic or specious considerations: a reasoning of the same type proposes to reverse the chronology of the Aphrodites of Arles and Cnidus based on the idea that the total nude represents Phryne in all the glory of her beauty, the veil of the Arlesian serving to conceal a somewhat faded nudity.

Phryné being famous for the astronomical prices which it practises, one wanted to see in this connection a proof of the fortune of the family of Praxitèle. Added to this is the fact that Cephisodotus the Younger is among the most fortunate Athenians: he pays six liturgies, a kind of imposed patronage, of which two alone. His first main trier (financing of a complete trier and its crew) is situated in 326-325 B.C., date after which the name of Praxiteles disappears from the official documents: one deduced from it that Praxiteles had just died, bequeathing his fortune to his sons, which would have justified this exceptional taxation.

Corpus

The traditional approach to reconstituting the corpus of works of an ancient sculptor consists in bringing together literary and material testimonies (inscriptions, coins, engraved stones) with the statues that have come down to us – for the great majority of them copies, replicas or Roman variants of Greek originals. In the case of Praxiteles, the sources are particularly numerous, which paradoxically does not help the work of the art historian. The main literary testimonies are the Natural History of the Roman Pliny the Elder and the Description of Greece by the Greek Pausanias. The former discusses the work of Greek sculptors in its sections on metalworking (the latter describes in what looks like a modern travel guide the works he saw during his trip to Greece.

The exploitation of these sources has important limitations: their authors lived respectively in the first and second centuries AD, that is to say four and five centuries after Praxiteles. Their lists of works are therefore not necessarily exact, nor exhaustive. Then, the temptation of over-interpretation is great, especially when the texts are vague or abstruse. Thus, in a famous sentence, Pliny lists works by Praxiteles that he names in Greek – a Catagūsam, “a satyr that the Greeks call periboētos,” a Stephanūsa, or a Pseliūmenē – terms with dubious meanings, perhaps poorly transmitted by manuscript tradition, and which have therefore been interpreted, or even amended, in a wide variety of ways.

In total, Praxiteles seems to have sculpted mainly effigies of deities or heroes: Eubouleus (the “Good Counselor”), Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, Dionysus, Eros, Hera, Hermes, Leto, maenads, Methè (Drunkenness), nymphs, Pan, Peitho (Persuasion), Poseidon, satyrs, Triptoleme, Tyche (Destiny), Zeus and the twelve gods. As for the human domain, we know a Diadumene, an charioteer and a warrior near his horse, as well as the statues already mentioned: a “weeping woman”, a “laughing courtesan”, a stephanousa (woman with a crown), a pselioumene (woman with bracelets?) and a canéphore. His activity as a portraitist is also well attested.

His statues have been installed:

The corpus of existing statues attributed to Praxiteles himself, attached to his school or style, covers several dozen works. At the end of the 19th century, the art historian Adolf Furtwängler listed 27 Praxitelian types; today, Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, who favors a minimalist, even hypercritical approach, has reduced this list to a single type, the Aphrodite of Knidos.

We follow here the typology retained by Alain Pasquier and Jean-Luc Martinez for the Praxiteles exhibition organized at the Louvre Museum in March-June 2007.

Any originals?

We have six bases of signed statues by Praxiteles. Three of them are related to women: Kleiokrateia daughter of Polyeuktos and Chairippe daughter of Philophron. The latter is known to be a priestess of Demeter and Korah, and the other two bases probably come from the same temple, of which Praxiteles would have been a sort of official portraitist. In any case, these inscriptions shed light on a part of Praxiteles” work that is little mentioned in the literature, which focuses on his representations of deities.

Several other works, generally unknown to the general public, have been attributed directly to the hand of the master, but these conjectures rarely meet with consensus.

Safe types

The types are presented in order of certainty, again following the classification of Pasquier and Martinez.

The type is one of the most famous of Greek sculpture, and this since antiquity. Pliny proclaims that “above all the works, not only of Praxiteles, but of the whole world, there is the Venus: many have made the trip to Knidos to see her. For the first time in the great Greek statuary, she represents, in Paros marble, a woman – in this case, a goddess – completely naked: standing, the goddess holds her cloak with her left hand, while she holds her right hand in front of her sex.

The traditional interpretation is that the goddess is represented as surprised when she comes out of the bath: if we are to believe the epigrams of the Greek Anthology, Praxiteles would have testified at first hand: “Alas, alas! Where has Praxiteles seen me naked!” exclaims the goddess in one of them. This interpretation has been contested: it would not be a genre scene, but a true epiphany where nudity symbolizes the fertility and erotic power of the goddess. Far from concealing her sex, Aphrodite would thus designate it to her followers.

The examples of the type of the Cnidian are particularly numerous, the pose and the details (hairstyle, support, etc.) sometimes varying considerably from one to another. Their connection to the original work of Praxiteles is attested by the representation of the type on coins of Cnidus minted during the reign of Caracalla. The so-called “Belvedere Venus”, kept in the reserves of the Pio-Clementino Museum in the Vatican, is often considered to be the closest to the original given its resemblance to the latter.

Other statuary types representing Aphrodite have also been attributed to Praxiteles: the semi-undressed Venus of Arles, linked by Furtwängler to the early days of the sculptor, or the Richelieu Aphrodite, dressed in a long chiton and identified by the same author as the statue bought by the people of Cos.

Mainly represented by the Borghese Sauroctone in the Louvre, the type has been linked to Pliny”s mention of a “young Apollo, watching with an arrow for a crawling lizard, which is called sauroctone”, completed by ancient intaglios and coins. The scene is traditionally interpreted as an evocation in the minor mode of the fight between Apollo and the serpent Python, after which the god made Delphi his territory. However, it is not clear why Praxiteles would have chosen to erase the violence of the story: the gesture of the Saurocton remains mysterious.

The identification has been disputed on stylistic grounds: the graceful, even effeminate appearance of the god, the hairstyle and the genre scene would rather refer to the Hellenistic period. It is however accepted by most specialists.

The literature mentions four times satyrs of Praxiteles:

Since Winckelmann, the “famous” Satyr has traditionally been linked to the type known as the Resting Satyr, of which the hundred or so known examples attest to its fame in Roman times; it represents a young satyr nonchalantly leaning on a tree trunk. The satyr from the rue des Trépieds, who is thought to be the same as the child satyr, is recognized in the type of the Pouring Satyr, which represents a young satyr, strongly humanized, holding an oenoche (wine jug) in his raised right hand, with which he pours wine into another container held in his left hand.

The style of the two Satyrs is quite different. In the case of the pouring Satyr, the treatment of the hair, the still Lysippean weight and a certain vision of the artist”s biography – Praxiteles would have been young at the time of his affair with Phryne – incite to place the work at the beginning of Praxiteles” career. The more daring dynamism of the Satyr at Rest favors a dating at the end of the sculptor”s career.

It has been objected that the representation of a satyr alone – out of any narrative or allegorical context -, and moreover of natural size and humanized, was not conceivable in the round in the classical period. The pouring Satyr would be a Hellenistic or even Roman creation, transcribing into three dimensions representations previously known on bas-reliefs. As for the Satyr at rest, his head with its powerful features and leonine hair seems very different from the known style of Praxiteles. Finally, there is no argument for or against linking it to the master.

The Hellenistic and Roman praxeology corpus

Praxiteles” father, Cephisodotus the Elder, was also a sculptor, as were his two sons, Cephisodotus the Younger and Timarchos. He is also known to have had at least one disciple, Papylos. There is a great temptation to attribute to the workshop or to the sons a work whose manner seems Praxilian, but which does not quite coincide with the sculptor, for example for a question of dates. However, it is difficult to determine what the influence of a master like Praxiteles might have been on his immediate entourage and beyond, on Hellenistic and then Roman sculpture.

The influence of Praxiteles on later sculpture was mainly reflected, for the male nudes, by a pronounced hipness and a grace bordering on softness and effeminacy, giving rise to more or less acrobatic attributions to the Athenian master. The Antinous of Belvedere and Hermes Andros, which can be dated to the Early Hellenistic period, remain fairly close to the Hermes of Olympia in the treatment of the musculature, the pose and the conformation of the head. On the other hand, the Dionysus Richelieu, with its underdeveloped muscles, alludes to Praxiteles without citing a specific work and is more closely related to the so-called “classicizing” school of the first century BC. Eclecticism is brought to its height in the late Hellenistic period in the works of Pasiteles and his entourage, which mix Praxitelesque elements with memories of the severe style of the 5th century BC. Similarly, in the Roman period, the group of Ildefonso combines the type of the Sauroctone with the type of the Westmacott Ephebe of Polyclitus, almost a century distant.

Literature attributes two statues of Eros to Praxiteles. One is that known as “of Thespies”, implied in the anecdote of the false fire. Installed in the temple of Eros of this island, it is worth to him only, notes Cicero, the detour by a city which does not present otherwise notable attractions. After several trips back and forth between Thespia and Rome, it was destroyed by fire during the reign of Titus and replaced by a copy which recognizes it in the type known as “of Centocelle”, widely recognized today as an eclectic work, borrowing in particular from Polyclète and Euphranor.

The Farnese-Steinhaüser type, already attributed to Praxiteles by Furtwängler on the basis of its resemblance to the pouring Satyr, has also been proposed. However, Callistrate insists on the skilful workmanship of the bronze of his Eros, whereas that of Thespia, according to Pausanias, is in pentelic marble: it is thus not the same work. Moreover, the Eros of Callistratus holds a bow in his left hand, whereas in the Farnese-Steinhaüser Eros, the bow appears on the support: here again, the identification must be abandoned.

The second Eros is the one called Parion which, according to Pliny, is as well known as the Aphrodite of Cnidus herself and which is probably made of bronze, since it is mentioned in the chapter on metalwork. It has been linked to coins of Parion, minted from the reign of Antoninus the Pious to that of Philip the Arab, showing a winged figure resting on the right leg, the right hand extended to the side and the left arm bent – a representation that corresponds in its broad outlines to the Borghese Genius in the Louvre and to other statues from Cos and Nicopolis ad Istrum. However, the numismatic type includes a mantle thrown over the left shoulder, which is not found in any of the statues. It has also been objected that they differed too much from each other to form a true type and that conversely, their commonalities were found in many other dissimilar statues.

This type, known from about a hundred copies (statues and figurines) and coins from the first century B.C., represents the god leaning on a support (his hair is tied in a braid on the top of his head, in a hairstyle characteristic of childhood. It is called “Lycian” because it is identified with a lost work described by Lucian of Samosata as appearing in the Lykeion, one of the gymnasiums of Athens.

No literary source links this type to Praxiteles, but the attribution is traditionally proposed on the basis of its resemblance to the Hermes of Olympia – a replica of the Lycian was once thought to be a copy of the Hermes. The comparison is based primarily on what has long been thought to be a copy of the Lycian: the Apollino (or Medici Apollo) in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, whose head has proportions close to that of the Aphrodite of Knidos and whose pronounced sfumato is in keeping with the long-held idea of Praxiteles” style.

However, most examples of the type show a marked musculature that hardly resembles the male types usually attributed to Praxiteles: it has been suggested that it is the work of Euphranor, his contemporary, or a creation of the second century BC. The Apollino, on the other hand, would be an eclectic creation of the Roman period, mixing several styles of the second classicism.

The Praxitian influence in female representation is first felt through the Aphrodite of Knidos. In the variant of the Capitoline Aphrodite, her forms are more lush and her nudity more provocative; the gesture of the two hands hiding her breasts and sex attracts the viewer”s attention more than it hides. It was also thought that the Praxitian style could be recognized in a certain type of drapery and the so-called “melon rib” hairstyle, two characteristics derived from the base of Mantinea.

According to Pausanias, Praxiteles is the author of the effigy of Artemis in the Brauronion of the Acropolis of Athens. Inventories of the temple dating from the 4th century B.C. indeed mention, among other things, an “erect statue” described as representing the goddess wrapped in a chitoniskos. It is also known that the cult of Artemis Brauronia included the consecration of clothes offered by women.

The work has long been recognized in the Diana of Gabies, a statue exhibited in the Louvre Museum which represents a young woman standing, dressed in a short chiton and clasping the fibula of a cloak on her right shoulder: the goddess would be shown accepting the gift of her followers. The resemblance of the head to that of Aphrodite of Knidos has also been noted. However, the identification has been questioned on several grounds. Firstly, the inventories discovered in Athens turned out to be copies of those of the sanctuary of Brauron: it is not certain that the Athenian cult also included the offering of clothes. Secondly, the short chiton would be anachronistic in the 4th century: on this basis, the statue would rather be from the Hellenistic period.

The Dresden Artemis has also been proposed: known from numerous replicas, it depicts the goddess wearing an unbelted peplos with a long flap and raising her right arm as if she were drawing an arrow from her quiver. The general attitude is similar to that of Eirene carrying Plutos by Cephisodotus the Elder, and the eponymous copy in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen of Dresden, if not the others, has a completely Praxilian head. Furtwängler places it in the wake of the Aphrodite of Arles (known as the Venus of Arles), all of these arguments motivating an attribution to young Praxiteles. It has been objected that the long-flap peplos did not appear before the second half of the 4th century, to which the weight and attitude of the body, with the bust thrown back, also seem to refer. Secondly, no other peplophore is known in the work of Praxiteles. Finally, the statue is not really related to any of the statues of Artemis attributed to the sculptor, especially since the identification of Artemis Brauronia proposed by Georges Despinis.

This double type takes its name from two statues discovered at the beginning of the 18th century in Herculaneum, representing two women dressed in a chiton and a cloak, with similar attitudes: the Great Herculanese has a veiled head while the Little Herculanese is smaller and has a bare head; both hold a part of their cloak with their left hand. They were very popular in imperial Rome: matrons were represented in the pose of the former and young girls in the latter.

Because of their close resemblance to the central Muse on the plaque inv. 215 from the base of Mantinea, the traditional interpretation has linked them to Praxiteles, and more precisely to the group representing Demeter and her daughter Persephone that Pausanias sees in the temple of Demeter in Athens – perhaps the same one that Pliny the Elder sees in Rome later on. Recent works contest this interpretation: the attributes alone do not allow us to conclude, and the type is found in non-Eleusinian contexts. Moreover, the attitude of the Herculanea is not identical to that of the Muse of Mantinea, but seems to exceed it. Knowing that the type of the Great Herculanea is found on a Ceramic stele from before 317 B.C., we are probably dealing with a sculptor who knew Praxiteles well, perhaps a member of his workshop.

Also in the tradition of the Mantinean base is the Sophocles of the Lateran, which combines the gesture of the right arm of the central Muse on the plaque inv. 215 and the attitude of the left arm of the Muse with the zither on the plaque inv. 217. It is known that Lycurgus had a posthumous portrait of Sophocles erected in the Theater of Dionysus; knowing that Cephisodotus the Younger and his brother Timarchus were the authors of a portrait of Lycurgus and his sons, the two sculptors could also be the originators of the Sophocles.

Technical elements

Ancient literature is sparse on the details of Praxiteles” style: in Pliny”s time, amateurs sometimes had difficulty differentiating the works of Praxiteles from those of Scopas, his contemporary. We know that the sculptor preferred marble to bronze: Pliny notes that “he was happier and also more famous for his works in marble; that said, he also made very beautiful works in bronze.” The fact is indeed remarkable, since bronze has been the noble material for sculpture in the round since the beginning of the 5th century BC.

The Roman also specifies that the sculptor frequently resorted to the painter Nicias to carry out the painted decoration (circumlitio) of his statues: the Greek sculpture in marble was systematically polychrome. What we know of the art of Nicias, that is to say a particular attention paid to the effects of light and shadows, seems to fit particularly well with the sfumato considered as characteristic of the works of Praxiteles. Pliny actually cites the sculptor among the possible inventors of the γάνωσις

Style elements

A set of characteristics derived mainly from the Hermes carrying Dionysus as a child and from the Apollo sauroctone is called “praxilian style”:

Praxiteles modified the traditional representation of deities, imposing the nude for Aphrodite and youth for Apollo. The predominance of the goddess of love, Eros and the Dionysian world in his repertoire is however part of a broader trend: these subjects are also found in vase painting or in the minor arts. Generally speaking, the art of Praxiteles is more in continuity than in rupture compared to the previous sculpture: “the construction of its works takes again, prolongs, enriches the research started by the successors of Polyclète and Phidias”, notes the archaeologist Claude Rolley.

The “fundamentally erotic” character of her sculpture has often been commented upon: indeed, ancient literature provides a number of anecdotes about the assaults on the Aphrodite of Knidos and the Eros of Parion by somewhat over-enthusiastic admirers. When Lucian of Samosate, in the second century AD, shows the heroes of his Amours commenting on the Aphrodite of Knidos, the description resembles more that of a real woman than that of a statue:

“What generous flanks, propitious to full embraces! How the flesh surrounds the buttocks with beautiful curves, without neglecting the protrusion of the bones, and without being invaded by an excess of fat!”

The rhetorician Callistratus does the same in his Descriptions, commenting on the “gaze full of desire mixed with modesty, filled with aphrodisiac grace” of a Diadumene attributed to the sculptor. However, these visions are those of Romanized spectators: it is difficult to say how Praxiteles” works were perceived by the sensibility of the 4th century BC.

Unfortunately, the chance of passing on the statues does not allow us to know the part of his work devoted to architectural sculpture or portraiture.

The inspiration

Part of Praxiteles” work is dedicated to deities celebrated in the Eleusis mysteries: the group of Demeter, Persephone and Iacchos located in the temple of Demeter in Athens; the group of Korah, Triptoleme and Demeter in Athens; the abduction of Persephone in Athens. If we add the signed bases directly or indirectly linked to the temple of Demeter in Athens, it is tempting to see in them the testimony of a particular religious fervor of the sculptor that the devotion towards the cults of Eleusis was very widespread in Athens at that time and that the works testify more to the fervor of the patron than that of the artist.

One also saw in the work of Praxitèle a Platonic inspiration: contrary to the “realistic” anecdotes where the sculptor takes Phryne for model of Aphrodite of Cnide, epigrams of the Greek Anthology show it exceeding the sensitive appearances to represent the idea even of the beauty: “Praxitèle did not see a prohibited spectacle, but the iron

For a long time, Praxiteles was known only through literary sources and a few fanciful attributions, such as one of the groups of Alexander and Bucephalus in the Quirinale square in Rome. The first work to be correctly attributed to him is probably the fragmentary statue of the type of Aphrodite of Knidos known as Aphrodite Braschi, present in Rome from around 1500. The name of Praxiteles itself is prestigious: during the Renaissance, Michelangelo was considered to be a new Praxiteles, and at the beginning of the 17th century, restorers were able to bring together ancient fragments with ancient texts. However, it was not until the 18th century that the Sauroctone mentioned by Pliny was formally recognized: Baron von Stosch first made the connection with an engraved stone, and then Winckelmann linked the latter with the Borghese Sauroctone and a small bronze from the Albani villa.

In the 18th century, Winckelmann saw in Praxiteles the inventor of the “beautiful style”, characterized by grace. The Aphrodite of Cnidus, the Satyr at Rest, the Sauroctone and the Pouring Satyr are well known, and sometimes cited by sculpture or painting of the period, as witnessed by Bertel Thorvaldsen”s Ganymede the Cupbearer (1816), which uses the pose of the Pourer. Antonio Canova also has a praxilian influence. However, the sculptor was overshadowed by Phidias, and the sculptures of the Parthenon that Lord Elgin brought back from Athens. In the second half of the 19th century, the so-called “Atticist” movement, inspired by severe art, was rivaled by the so-called “Hellenist” movement, inspired more by Praxiteles and Hellenistic art, of which James Pradier was undoubtedly the best representative, but which sometimes degenerated into a search for the pretty and the picturesque.

Praxiteles also occupies a place of choice in artistic education: the statues attributed to him are abundantly reproduced by molding, or represented on the first photographs. They were also copied: thus, the jury of the French Academy in Rome declared, concerning a copy of the Satyr at Rest by Théodore-Charles Gruyère, winner of the Prix de Rome in 1839, that “by choosing as the subject of his copy the famous Faun of the Capitol, one of the antique repetitions of Praxiteles”s faun, the artist had already demonstrated his judgment and taste.” Praxiteles also figures prominently in the sculpted decor of the Cour Carrée of the Louvre palace, whether among the copies of antiques (an Apollino, two Diana de Gabies, a Satyr at rest) or among the creations entrusted to contemporary sculptors.

A one-act opera, Praxitèle, by Jeanne-Hippolyte Devismes, on a libretto by Jean-Baptiste de Milcent, was created on July 24, 1800 at the Paris Opera.

The beginning of the 20th century saw a return of the pendulum in favor of severe art, of which Bourdelle and especially Maillol were the best representatives. The latter in particular shows a marked detestation for Praxiteles. After having seen the sculptures of the temple of Zeus in Olympia and then the Hermes, he wrote about the latter: “It is pompous, it is awful, it is sculpted as in soap of Marseille. (…) for me, it is the Bouguereau of sculpture, the first fireman of Greece, the first member of the Institute!

References

Sources

  1. Praxitèle
  2. Praxiteles