It was possibly between 360 and 330 BC, when Greek sculptor Praxiteles was commissioned by the island of Kos to create a sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite. Praxiteles agreed and it is said that he used the famous ancient Greek courtesan Phryne as a model for the statue. According to Roman writer Pliny, he created two sculptures of the goddess, one fully clothed and another fully naked. Though Aphrodite was the goddess of love and sex, the islanders of Kos were scandalized to see the naked statue. Because, according to the social norms and sculptural conventions of the prevailing Greek society, women were not allowed to be shown naked in sculpture, let alone the goddesses. They, therefore, opted for the clothed version of the goddess and rejected the naked version.
Nevertheless, as the nearby city of Knidos heard all about the story, they took the opportunity to purchase the naked statue created by the master sculptor at a cheaper price and installed it in Knidos’ sanctuary to the goddess. Henceforth, she came to be known as the Aphrodite of Knidos.
In fact, men had been naked in Greek sculpture for more than 350 years, but the Aphrodite of Knidos, created by Praxiteles between 360 and 330 BC was the first full-sized naked female sculpture in Greek history. It depicted the goddess of love reaching for a bath towel while covering her pubis and thus, completely exposing her breasts, which almost seemed to invite attention. It is said that a sailor became so much obsessed with the smooth roundness of her thighs and her slightly parted mouth, that one day at night he stole into the sanctuary and tried to have sex with the statue, leaving an indecent stain on Aphrodite’s thigh.
Unfortunately, the original Greek sculpture no longer exists, as it was stolen from Knidos and was last seen in the palace of Lausos in Constantinople in the early Christian period. It is presumed by many scholars that the boundary-breaking sexy statue of all time was burnt in the palace in the devastating fire of 476 AD.
However, the Aphrodite of Knidos established a canon for the proportions for the female nude for the future artists and centuries later, Aphrodite of Knidos not only inspired the Roman artists to re-create the celebrated image of the goddess of love, but also inspired generations of artists across the ancient world to make copies of it, which mimicked or played with the pose and posture of the Aphrodite of Knidos and thus her sexual ambiguity.
In Venus de Medici, her right hand is placed over her breasts, which had been on her pubis, while her left hand, which had been on her bathrobe, covered her pubis. It created an impulsive sense of self-protection. The Capitoline Venus, found near Basilica of San Vitale around 1666-1670 and made of precious marble, represents Venus-Aphrodite nude and in contemplation, coming out of her bath, with her arms following the curving contours of her soft and fleshy small-boned body and covering her breasts and public area.
In another copy, named the Aphrodite Kallipyrgos, which translates as the Aphrodite with the nice buttocks, she was depicted as a partially draped woman, raising the back side of her dress to uncover her hips and buttocks and looking back and down over her shoulder, perhaps to evaluate them.
Today, though the original is lost, the copies, created all over the Hellenistic and Roman worlds, are displayed in a number of museums all over the world in various names like, the Colonna Venus, the Medici Venus, the Capitoline Venus, the Barberini Venus and the others.