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© 2003 David Koeller.  All rights reserved.

Praxiteles

ca. 400-330 BC

Sculpture was a very important aspect of Greek culture.  It was a way to gain fame, wealth and prosperity.  Being a sculptor was a highly prestigious occupation because the Greeks admired the human being and its greatness.  The most famous and esteemed sculptor of Greek culture was Praxiteles.  Praxiteles's career spanned from the 370s to the 340s BC (during the latter end of the Hellenic Period into the Hellenistic Period of Greece).

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Praxiteles was either the son or a close relative of the great sculptor Kephisodotos.  Kephisodotos took Praxiteles on as a pupil and helped him to start his sculpting career.  The fact that his father was a well-known sculptor might have aided him in becoming such a well-known sculptor also. Because of his fame, he was able to lead a very comfortable life.  He was known for giving expensive gifts to his friends.  There was one woman in his life: the courtesan Phyrne.  She was his favorite model and there was always a hint that there might have been a romance between the two, but that was never really proven. She was used for a great number of sculptures that had to do with Olympian goddesses. One of the most significant of these is the Aphrodite of Knidos.

Praxiteles style always set him above the other sculptors of his time.  He always tried new techniques to make his artwork "ripple with life" and be as natural as possible.  To get that naturalistic representation he would use smooth curves, light and shadow.  One of the techniques that he used was to polish the marble (which was his favorite stone to sculpt with) to make the light reflect and contour off of the statue giving it a lifelike essence.  His sculpting style was delicate and luminous, and gave it the body a sensuous texture.

The Aphrodite of Knidos is representative of a distinct style that Praxiteles initiated in Greek sculpture; however, it also may have reflected the influence of women in his life.  "The first female nude in Greek monumental sculpture, she was represented as placing her clothes on a hydria in anticipation of a bath, her right hand modestly concealing her genitals.  The bracelet on her left arm betrays the courtesan Phyrne as the artist's model.  Praxiteles's creation excited the imagination of antiquity and inspired later images of Aphrodite, by imposing the rich anatomy of Phyrne on the formulaic scheme of balance" (Dictionary of Art).  Praxiteles many works allowed for advancements in all areas of Greek sculpture.

Praxiteles: Hermes with the Infant Dionysus
Praxiteles implemented a new pose called the "Praxitlean curve" as seen in his Hermes with the Infant Dionysus  http://harpy.uccs.edu/greek/lateclasssculpt.html.  This new curve influenced many sculptors during the late Hellenic Period and into the Hellenistic Period of Greek sculpture.  For example in the sculpture of Aphrodite of Melos (Ca. 160-150) and in Hermes "both exhibit exaggerated contrapposto, a sensuous, even erotic, modeling of the body, and a serene countenance with an unmistakable gaze" (Matthews).

Furthermore, he was always able to capture the temperament of the subject through great facial expression.  You do not even have to look at the body for an example of what the subject was feeling.  All you need to do is to look at the face.  But Praxiteles did take great pleasure in creating the human form.  He used the nude human form in almost all of his full body sculptures.  Beauty was mere seductiveness to him and he explored greatly into the more sexual aspect of sculpture.  Praxiteles's greatest ambition was to produce the illusion of life.  He wanted his works to be as real as possible.  Praxiteles, for example in the bronze Apollo Sauroktonos identifies this "subject on the basis of ancient descriptions in a boy, with long hair tied with fillets, leaning against a tree and preparing to stab a lizard, which ran up its trunk" (Dictionary of Art).  This sculpture looks like it could jump to life at any moment.  That was particularly Praxiteles's style.

Apollo Sauroctonios
(The Lizard-killer)

 

Similarly, one of Praxiteles early works was the statue of Satyr.  This along with Eros  were to be presents to Phyrne.  Phyrne decided that Satyr would become a part of the dedication in the Street of the Tripods in Athens.  "The Pouring Satyr represents a naked boy, with pointed ears and luxuriant hair decorated with ivy bies and tied with a band over the forehead, pouring wine from an oinochoe held over his head" (Dictionary of Art).  Praxiteles was unique with his sculpture because other sculptors had not made their subjects' hair curly, which added life to his work.  His work was inspiring for other sculptors and he set a very high standard for excellence in sculpting.
        Praxiteles was a ground-breaking artist.  He may not have been the best, but his uniqueness in style set him above all the old masters of his time.  His stylistic mannerisms blazed a path for sculptors later in time.  He gave the body natural life and a luminous essence that no other sculptor had ever come close to before.


Notes:

1.  For more on Greek sculpture (including Praxiteles) go to  http://harpy.uccs.edu/greek/sculpture-slides.html

2.  For more background information on Greek civilization go to http://www.museum.upenn.edu/Greek_World/Intro.html

3.  For activities and chatrooms pertaining to Greek culture go to  http://www.ancientsites.com/as/home/features/astours.html

4.  For a more comprehensive adaptation of Greek history go to  http://www.webcom.com/shownet/medea/grklink.html

Sources:

Carpenter, Rhys.  Greek Sculpture.  Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Lawerence, Aw.  Greek and Roman Sculpture.  Great Britain:  Harper and Row,
       Publishers, Inc., 1972.

Matthews,  Roy T.  The Western Humanities.  Mountain View, CA:  Mayfield Publishing
       Company, 1998.

Paladia, Olga. “Praxiteles.” The Dictionary of Art.  London:  MacMillan Pulishers
       Limited, 1996.


Edited by: Andrea Mendyk
Researched by: Heidi Smith
Written by: Ilona Narzariunus
April 27, 1999

Text copyright 1996-9 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.

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