Rome, Roman National Museum, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme
(Roma, Museo nazionale romano, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme).
Statue of Aphrodite bearing the signature of Menophantos
Found near the church of San Gregorio al Celio, in the area of the Orto Botanico, and later in the collection in Palazzo Chigi (1760).
The statue is broken above the waist; the head, right leg below the knee, the feet and part of the mantle are also reattached.
Restorations have been carried in various points.
Fine-grain Greek marble.
Ht. 184 cm, or 187 cm with the plinth in front; 193.5 cm from the side; inv. 75674.
The goddess Aphrodite is represented nude and from a frontal viewpoint, leaning on her left leg while the right is bent slightly backwards, her face a nearly perfect oval with drawn-out eyes, slightly open lips and a rounded chin. Her sumptuous curled hairstyle is parted in front into two bands which are pulled back into a double knot on the neck. The figure leans slightly forward with her head tilted a bit to the side: she is seen bringing her right hand toward her breast in an attempt to shield herself from indiscreet eyes, while her left descends in front to cover her private parts with the comer of a towel which falls to her side onto a vanity case on the ground on whose visible side can be read the inscription “Menophantos realized [this work] after the Aphrodite in the region of Troy,” which furnishes not only the name of the copyist but also the location of the original. Loewy hypothesized that the statue was located in the Trojan city of Alexandria in the time of Antigonus and Lysimachos (314-284 BC), but there is not yet enough evidence to confirm this.
The work of Menophantos nevertheless takes a place within the wider category of the naked Aphrodite, or the so-called Aphrodite pudens, an image which had enormous fortune in the Roman world, obviously corresponding to a common place within the collective imagination, as is demonstrated by the widespread diffusion of various types (the “Medici,” “Cnidos” and “Capitoline” types, for example) for the decoration of gardens or the luxurious private homes of the Imperial age: these all can be traced more or less directly to the Aphrodite of Cnidos created by Praxiteles in the fourth century BC, which according to tradition was the first ancient depiction of a female nude. The Aphrodite of Menophantos, however, shows more human traits than the Aphrodite of Cnidos, with a delicate timidity of expression far removed from the Olympian detachment of Praxiteles’ model. The subsequent types differ especially in the support, which could variously be loutrophoroi, dolphins, putti or even a bath item as in the case of this Aphrodite from the Celio, by this point without any connection to the original creation. In comparison with other interpretations, this version retains the original elements of the box at the feet of the goddess and the towel brought up to cover her womb, which seem in fact to accentuate the modesty of the Praxitelian creation (unless, of course, it is an ambiguous stratagem to attract the eye of the spectator to the covered parts).
The statue of Menophantos is dated largely on an analysis of the characters of the inscription, carved in the style of the first century BC.
W. Helbig, Führer durch die öffentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertümer in Rom. III. Tübingen, 19694. S. 146, № 2236 (H. von Steuben);
Museo Nazionale Romano. Le sculture, ed. A. Giuliano, I, 1, Roma 1979, pp. 109—
W. Neumer-Pfau, Studien zur Ikonographie und gesellschaftlichen Funktion hellenistischer Aphrodite-Statuen, Munich, 1982, p. 62 ff.;
Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, Zürich-Münich, II (1984), p. 54, no. 422 (A. Delivorrias);
P. Moreno, La scultura ellenistica, Roma 1994, p. 664 ff. (with the preceding bibliography).