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Praxiteles of Athens


Praxiteles' career is documented by over a hundred references in the literary sources, ranging in date from Hellenistic through Byzantine, and eight inscribed bases with his signature (some of them later renewals). Since the names Praxiteles and Kephisodotos alternated in this family after ca. 350, it is likely that he was the son of the Kephisodotos of T 92. The family's history has been succinctly charted by J.K. Davies 1971 (no. 8334): T 1 gives him a floruit of 364-361, but a base (IG 22 no. 4390) signed by his son Kephisodotos (II) permits a rather more precise chronology, since it mentions Asklepios' priest for 344/3.

Now Kephisodotos II floruit in 296-293 (T 1), so this must have been a very early work of his, suggesting that he was born around 365, and his father (for the Athenian males rarely married before the age of 25) by ca. 390 at the latest. Praxiteles may have died shortly before 326, since by then Kephisodotos (II) was paying heavy naval liturgies (IG 22 nos. 1628, lines 57, 68, 74, 11; 1629, line 674; 1633, line 100), perhaps as heir to the family fortune — evidently little diminished by his father's spectacular liaison with the courtesan Phryne (T 100, 102). Praxiteles' Mantinea group (no. 19, below), done "in the third generation after Alkamenes" (T 94: cf. T 72-75 for the latter's dates, ca. 440-400) must therefore have been a late work. The case of his various statues for Phryne's home town, Thespiae (almost desolate between 374/3 and 338) is more complicated, and will be addressed below. Finally, to return to his floruit with Euphranor in 364-361 (T 1), this may derive from the date either of his most famous work, the Knidia (compare Pheidias and Polykleitos here), or of Euphranor's, the Battle of Mantinea (fought in 362).

Including Praxiteles' grandson (but not his later descendants, for whom see J.K. Davies 1971, 288-90 and Stewart 1979, 157-76), the family's chronology thus becomes:

Praxiteles: born ca. 400/390, active ca. 380/70-ca. 330/25

Kephisodotos (II): born ca. 365, active ca. 345-290

Timarchos: born ca. 360, active ca. 340-290

Praxiteles (II): active ca. 290-280

Praxiteles' known works are almost equally distributed between bronzes and marbles despite his admirers' clear preference for the latter (Pliny, N.H. 34.69; T 95); just as clearly, too, he was both an agalmatopoios and an accomplished andriantopoios , a maker of gods and men, despite the Hellenistic practice of listing him only among the former (T 115).


      Aphrodite and her circle

    • Aphrodite Euploia in Parian marble, at Knidos (T 95-100, 128
    • Aphrodite at Kos (T 95
    • Aphrodite (and Phryne) in marble, at Thespiae (T 101
    • Aphrodite in the shrine of Adonis at Alexandria in Caria
    • Aphrodite in bronze, later at Rome but destroyed by fire ca. A.D. 45
    • Peitho and Paregoros, grouped with the Eros, Himeros, and Pothos of Skopas around the ancient image of Aphrodite Praxis, in her temple at Megara
    • Eros in Pentelic marble, at Thespiae, later in Rome but destroyed by fire in A.D. 80 (T 101-2
    • Eros in marble at Parion (by the Sea of Marmora)
    • Eros in bronze

      Dionysos and his circle

    • Dionysos, Methe (Drunkenness) and a `famed' satyr in bronze, later in Rome
    • Dionysos at Elis
    • Dionysos of bronze
    • Hermes and the infant Dionysos in marble, in the Heraion at Olympia (problematic) (T 93
    • Maenads, Thyiads, Karyatids and Silenoi in marble, later in Rome
    • Thespiadai in bronze, destroyed with (5)
    • Satyr in bronze, in the Street of the Tripods at Athens (T 102
    • Satyr of Parian marble, in the temple of Dionysos at Megara


    • Apollo, Leto and Artemis, in the temple of Apollo at Megara
    • Apollo, Leto, and Artemis, on a base with the Muses and Marsyas piping, in the Letoion at Mantinea (T 94
    • Apollo in marble, later in Asinius Pollio's collection at Rome (T 167
    • Apollo Sauroktonos of bronze
    • Artemis Brauronia, on the Akropolis
    • Colossal Artemis, in her temple at Antikyra in Phokis
    • Demeter, Persephone, and Iakchos, in the temple of Demeter at Athens
    • Demeter, Persephone ("Flora"/Kore?) and Triptolemos in marble, later in Rome
    • Eubouleus, later in Rome
    • Hera enthroned between Athena and Hebe, in her temple at Mantinea
    • Colossal Hera Teleia and Rhea of Pentelic marble, in the temple of Hera at Plataia
    • Leto, in her temple at Argos
    • Pan, Danae, and the Nymphs, of Pentelic marble
    • Persephone raped by Hades, in bronze
    • Poseidon in marble, later with (20)
    • Trophonoios, in his temple at Lebadeia
    • The Twelve Gods, in the temple of Artemis Soteira at Megara
    • Agathosdaimon and Agathe Tyche of marble, later in Rome
    • Tyche, in her temple at Megara
    Victor-statues, portraits, and funerary sculpture
    • Archippe in bronze, dedicated by her mother Archippe in the Athenian Agora
    • A basket-bearer (`canephora') in bronze, later in Rome
    • A charioteer in bronze, completing a chariot group by (the younger) Kalamis
    • A courtesan laughing (Phryne?) in bronze
    • A diadoumenos in bronze, on the Akropolis
    • Phryne in marble, grouped with (3) at Thespiae (T 101
    • Phryne, later in Rome (T 136
    • Phryne in gold, on a column at Delphi
    • A soldier and his horse, on a tomb in the Kerameikos
    • Thrasymachos, dedicated by Archaias and Wanaxareta at Leuktra
    • Tomb monuments in marble, in the Kerameikos
    • A woman spinning (`catagusa') in bronze
    • A woman crowning herself (`stephanusa') in bronze
    • A woman mourning, in bronze
    • A woman putting on an armlet (`pseliumene') in bronze
    Architectural sculpture in marble
    • Statues in the altar-court of Artemis at Ephesos
    • Labors of Herakles, in the pediments of the Herakleion at Thebes
    Uncertain subject-matter
    • A statue at Olbia on the Black Sea (signature only preserved)
    • A statue on Delos (ditto)
    • Two statues in bronze, later at Pergamon (ditto — a renewal)
    • A bronze statue later in Rome (ditto — a renewal)
    • Dedication of Kleokrateia and another to Demeter and Kore, in the Agora
    • `Opora' in bronze
    Disputed and Misattributed Works
    • Aphrodite and Eros in marble, now in the Louvre (Roman: signature forged)
    • Dioskouros on Monte Cavallo, Rome (Roman: the other signed `Pheidias')
    • Eros/Alkibiades in marble, later in Rome (also given to Skopas)
    • Eros in the collection of Heius at Messana in Sicily, duplicate of (7), appropriated by Verres in 71 (a copy?)
    • Bust of the poet Ibykos from Crest (France) (Roman: signature forged)
    • `Janus' in marble, taken by Augustus from Alexandria to Rome (also given to Skopas)
    • Leto in emerald, at Myra (fanciful)
    • South side of the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos (T 107: also given to Timotheos)
    • Niobids in marble, later in Rome (also given to Skopas)
    • Tyrannicides in bronze, in the Agora (actually by Antenor)
The length of this list — far greater than one man could produce in a lifetime — suggests either the activities of a sizable workshop and/or following, or a phenomenon equivalent to that of the proudly-displayed Raphael in every self-respecting Italian church, or both. The two definite survivors are the Hermes (no. 13) and the Mantinea base (Apollo, Skythian, and Marsayas: Athens, NM 215); three Muses (Athens, NM 216); three Muses (Athens, NM 217; no. 19), and modern scholarship has added four others, the "Eubouleus" (Athens, NM 181), the Marathon Boy (Athens, NM Br. 15118), the Aberdeen head (London 1600), and the Leconfield Aphrodite (Stewart 1990, figs. 492-97, 499-500).

Of these, (13) and (19) were seen by Pausanias:

“[Continuing the text of T 16], at a later time other statues were dedicated in the Heraion: a marble Hermes carrying the baby Dionysos, the work of Praxiteles, and a bronze Aphrodite made by Kleon of Sikyon. The master of this Kleon, called Antiphanes, was a pupil of Periklytos, who was taught by Polykleitos of Argos. A nude, gilded child is seated before the Aphrodite; Boethos of Kalchedon was its toreutes [metal-smith]. Also brought there were statues from the so-called Philippeion, of gold and ivory, Eurydike the wife of Philip [lacuna] . .

“The Mantineans have a two-part temple, divided right across the middle by a wall. In one section of the temple is an image of Asklepios, the work of Alkamenes, while the other is a sanctuary of Leto and her children; Praxiteles made the images in the third generation after Alkamenes. On their base are carved the Muses and Marsyas playing the flutes.

Yet even so, the Hermes is probably Hellenistic (see most recently, Pfrommer 1984, 176; Morrow 1985, 83-84; Stewart 1990, 177), while the base is clearly a workshop product, like the Marathon Boy (Athens, NM Br. 15118). The Leconfield and Aberdeen heads look authentically Praxitelean and late fourth-century, so could be by either the master himself or by his sons. As for the "Eubouleus", though a Roman inscription certifies Praxiteles' authorship of this minor Eleusinian underworld deity, and the bust was found with a dedication to Eubouleus in the Ploutonion there, the large number of copies (eight, including two on the Akropolis, of all places) is disturbing. Perhaps he merely reproduced his Triptolemos or Iakchos/Dionysos (24, 25), both of whom could easily prompt such a rendering, and generate the copies we have. The piece is evidently cut down from a complete statue: the tooling around the shoulders, the high polish on the face, and the deep drilling in the hair are all secondary, perhaps repairs after the Kostovokian sack of A.D. 170. It is surely not an Alexander: see Furtwängler 1895/1964, 330-33; Lippold 1950, 241; Bieber 1964, 26; Vierneisel-Schlörb 1979, 375-78; and Stewart 1993, Chapter 4.2 for a range of opinions.

The meager fragments so far recovered from (52) appear early Hellenistic, and none seems particularly Praxitelean: see ÖJh 50 (1972-75): Beiblatt 462-67 and Grabungen 50 fig. 44. Finally, the head from Chios attributed by Marshall 1909 (Boston 10.70; cf. Stewart 1990, fig. 606) is now also universally accepted as post-Praxitelean, while the recent suggestion that limb-fragments found near the Knidian Aphrodite sanctuary, and a head, B.M. 1314, found in the Demeter sanctuary — a mile away! — are all from (1) (Love 1972, 75-76, 401 n.1) are contradicted by T 128, locating her among the works burnt in the Lauseion at Constantinople in A.D. 476: see further, Haynes 1972, 731-37.

Pliny places Praxiteles next after Pheidias and his star pupils in his catalogue of the great marble-workers, with the words:

“(20) I have mentioned the date of Praxiteles among those sculptors who worked in bronze [T1]; yet in his fame as a marble-worker he surpassed even himself. There are works by him at Athens in the Ceramicus, but first and foremost not only of this, but indeed in the whole world, is the Venus that many have sailed to Cnidus to see. He made two statues and put them up for sale together: one was draped and for that reason was preferred by the people of Cos, who had an option on the sale, even though it was the same price as the other, for they judged this to be the sober and proper thing to do. The Cnidians bought the rejected one, whose fame became immensely greater.

(21) Later King Nicomedes [of Bithynia, reigned 90-74] wanted to buy it, promising that he would pay off the city's entire foreign debt, which was enormous. The Cnidians, however, preferred to suffer anything but this, and not without reason, for with this statue, Praxiteles had made Cnidus famous. The shrine she stands in is completely open, so that one can view the image of the goddess from all sides, an arrangement (so it is believed) that she herself favored. The statue is equally admirable from every angle. There is a story that a man was once overcome with love for it, hid inside during the night, and embraced it, leaving a stain to mark his lust.

(22) In Cnidus there are other marbles by famous artists, a Father Liber [Dionysos] by Bryaxis, another and a Minerva too by Scopas, but there is no greater witness to the quality of Praxiteles' Venus that among all these it alone receives attention.

There follows a brief list of Praxitelean works at Rome. The erotic anecdotes are typical of Greco-Roman writing on Praxiteles: since unlike the classical bronze workers the marble sculptors inspired no substantial critical tradition, such erotica, often worked up into verse by Hellenistic and later poets, constitute our major source for the reception of his work in antiquity. The classic case is of course the Knidia:

“You'll say, when you look on Kypris in rocky Knidos,
That she, of stone herself, may set a stone on fire;
But when you see the sweet Desire in Thespiae, you'll say
He'll not just fire up stone, but coldest adamant.
Such were the gods Praxiteles made, each in a different land,
Lest all be burnt up by a double fire.

Anth. Pal. 16.167

“Paris saw me naked, and Anchises, and Adonis too.
I know of only three — so how did Praxiteles contrive it?

Anth. Pal. 16.168

“When we had taken sufficient delight in the garden plants, we entered the temple. The goddess is placed in the middle — she's a most beautiful statue of Parian marble — smiling just a little haughty smile. Since she is swathed in no clothes all her naked beauty is revealed, except that she unobtrusively uses one hand to hide her modesty. So great was the power of the craftsman's art that the hard unyielding marble has done justice to every limb. . . . The temple has a door on both sides for those who wish to see the goddess directly from behind so that no part of her be left unadmired. It's easy, therefore, for people to enter by this other door and survey the beauty of her back.

Deciding, then, to see all of the goddess we went round to the rear. And as the door was opened by the woman responsible for keeping the keys, immediate amazement at her beauty seized us. The Athenian who had been an impassive observer shortly before . . . suddenly shouted, "Herakles! What a well-shaped back, what generous flanks, what an armful to embrace! How delicately moulded the flesh of her behind, neither too thin and close to the bone, nor yet revealing too great an expanse of fat! And as for those precious parts sealed in on either side by the hips, how inexpressibly sweetly they smile! How perfect the shape of the thighs and shins as they stretch down to the ankle!" [The story of the stain follows].

Ps.-Lucian, Amores 13-14
[T99]: see T 58

“At the festival of the Eleusinia and at the festival of Poseidon, Phryne took off her cloak in full view of all the Greeks, let down her hair, and stepped into the sea; and it was with her as a model that Apelles painted his Aphrodite Anadyomene [Rising from the Sea]. And Praxiteles the sculptor fell in love with her and modeled his Knidian Aphrodite on her . . . . [More about their love-affair follows, ending with the dedication of the gold statue, no. 44 above].

Athenaeus 13.590
At first sight the temple described in T 98 (written ca. A.D. 300) seems incompatible with that of T 95; clearly either the Doric rotunda found by Love (Love 1972; Stewart 1990, fig. 502) had been remodeled to limit access to the statue or she had been moved elsewhere. The rotunda itself seems third-century, though could be a reconstruction, since fragments of an earlier building were also recovered at the site. For the copies, many of which seem to be taken from a mid or late Hellenistic recension (Pfrommer 1985), see Stewart 1990, figs. 503-07: from Italy (Vatican 812); from Syria (Malibu 72.AA.93); from Tralleis (Louvre 3518).

Of the other types recognizable in copy, the early Arles Aphrodite (Louvre 439; Stewart 1990, fig. 501; condemned as neo-classical by Ridgway 1976) resembles one shown with a statuette of a woman on Thespian coins, so could copy (3); the checkered career of the Thespian Eros (7), on the other hand, suggests that we should probably not expect monumental replicas:

“Later on Lysippos made a bronze Eros for Thespiae, and even before him Praxiteles made one of Pentelic marble. The story of Phryne and the trick she played on Praxiteles, I have already related elsewhere. The first to remove the image of Eros, it is said, was Gaius [Caligula] the Roman emperor; Claudius sent it back to Thespiae but Nero carried it off a second time to Rome. There a fire finally destroyed it... The statue of Eros at Thespiae which exists now was made by the Athenian Menodoros, who copied the work of Praxiteles. Here too and by Praxiteles also are an Aphrodite and a portrait of Phryne, both of marble.

And for the trick:

“[The Street of the Tripods at Athens] also contains some really remarkable works of art. For there is a Satyr, of which Praxiteles is said to have been very proud. And once Phryne asked him for the most beautiful of all his works, and he agreed, lover-like, to give it to her, but refused to say which he thought was the most beautiful. So a slave of Phryne rushed in with the news that fire had broken out in Praxiteles' studio, and that most of his works were lost, though not all. Praxiteles immediately ran out through the doors and said that all his labor was wasted if indeed the flames had caught his Satyr and Eros. But Phryne told him to stay and cheer up, for he had suffered nothing grievous, but by a ruse she had trapped him into confessing which of all his works was the most beautiful. So Phryne chose the Eros.

No. 8 also only appears on coins, though Hermary 1986 has now reconnected the (sadly, headless) Palatine Eros type with (7). With the Pouring Satyr (Dresden type: Stewart 1990, fig. 408) and the Dresden Artemis (REF: cf. 10, 16-19, 22, 23 — but which?) it too looks early, ca. 380-370 (cf. Arnold 1969, 161 and 210 for the chronology). On the other hand, the Leaning Satyr (Rome, Museo Capitolino 739; Stewart 1990, fig. 510) and two youthful Dionysos types at present known only from herms are clearly later, one approaching the Olympia Hermes (Ashmole 1922a, 242-4; cf. Stewart 1977a, 139).

The Apollo Sauroktonos (21; Louvre 441; Stewart 1990, fig. 509) is securely identified from Pliny N.H. 34.70 and Martial 14.172. The Gabii Artemis (Louvre MA 441; Stewart 1990, fig. 508) may copy the Brauronia (22); Treheux 1964 shows how this statue cannot date to 346/5, as often stated, but must belong between 345/4 and 336/5. Finally, the Apollo Lykeios described in Lucian, Anacharsis 7 — but without naming the author — and recognized both on Athenian coins and on numerous replicas in the round, is regularly attributed to him [REF]. Other suggestions, coin-pictures of lost works, and supposed versions on reliefs and other media, are more problematic, and cannot be addressed here.

Because Praxiteles wrote no book on his art and inspired no proper critical tradition about it, sources for his style are pitifully few in number. While Quintilian (T 3) only contrasts his tact in naturalistic representation with Demetrios (cf. T 91), others are sometimes a little more explicit:

“Neither poet nor historian, nor indeed any craftsman of literature can in all respects satisfy all his readers. For ... not even Pheidias, admired above all for the fabrication of ivory statues, nor Praxiteles, who masterfully embodied the emotions of the soul in works of stone, nor Apelles nor Parrhasios ... attained such success in their work that they could display a product of their skill that was totally above censure.

Diodoros 26.1

“Praxiteles used to say about Nicias, when questioned as to which one of his marbles he preferred above all: those to which Nicias has set his hand — so much value did he put upon his ability to articulate with color. It is not quite clear whether this artist or a namesake is the one people assign to the 112th Olympiad [332-329].

Pliny, N.H. 35.133

“It is not agreed who was the inventor of painting in wax and doing pictures in encaustic. Some think Aristides discovered it and Praxiteles later perfected it, but there were encaustic paintings that were considerably older, such as those of Polygnotos.

Pliny, N.H. 35.122
Praxiteles is also regularly cited by writers on phantasia (T 54) and in the various disputes concerning the status of the artist, and by the Augustan period his popularity was prompting quite an industry in forgeries:

“Then there are those who in our own age
Find better prices for their new-made works
By signing marbles with "Praxiteles,"
Silverware with "Mys," and paintings, "Zeuxis."

Phaedrus, Fabulae 5, prologue

Select bibliography: (A) General: Furtwängler 1895/1964, 307-347; Rizzo 1932; ThB 27: 354-63 (Bieber, 1933); Picard 1935-1971 (vol. 3): (Picard/Manuel) 406-632, (vol. 4): 237-40; Lacroix 1949, 302-16; Lippold 1950, 234-43; RE 22: 1787-1809 (Lippold, 1954); EWA 11: 562-65 (Ashmole, 1958); Bieber 1961b, 15-23; EAA 6: 423-31 (Becatti, 1965); Boardman 1967, 436-39; Richter 1970d, 199-206; Carpenter 1971, 169-75; M. Robertson 385-96, 513-14; Ridgway 1990, 90-93; Stewart 1990, 175-80, 277-81, and index, s.v. 'Praxiteles'.

(B) Sources: Overbeck 1868/1959, nos. 1190-1300; Löwy 1885/1976 nos. 76, 76a, 154, 488-89, 502-04; Stuart-Jones 1895/1966, 151-64; Jex-Blake 1896, lxix; Marcadé 1957, 114-22; J.K. Davies 1971 no. 8334; Pollitt 1974, passim; Coarelli 1971-72: 99-106; Wilkinson 1979, 91-92, cf. 58-60 (Phryne); Lauter 1980; Harward 1982a; Gallet de Santerre 1983, 46, 62-63, 74, 207, 238-42; Corso 1988, 1990; Pollitt 1990, 84-89, 170, 223.

(C) The Hermes controversy: Blümel 1927, 37-48; Carpenter 1931; Blümel 1944; Carpenter 1954; Adam 1966, 124-28; R.M. Cook 1977 (and the Aberdeen head); Pfrommer 1984, 176 and Morrow 1985, 83-84 (sandals).

(D) Other works and attributions: Imhoof-Blumer 1887/1964, lx, lxv, lxx-lxxi, 6-8, 37-38, 73, 93-94, 111-12, 124-25, 140-42, 145, 154, 159-60; Marshall 1909 (Chios head); Ashmole 1922a, 242-44 (Dionysos); Blinkenberg 1933 (Knidia); Rodenwaldt 1943 (Knidia); Lacroix 1949, 318-20; Tréheux 1964; Künzl 1968, 16-20 (Sauroktonos, Hermes); Arnold 1969, 161, 210 (chronology); Love 1972 (Knidia); Haynes 1972, 731-37 (Knidia); Maxmin 1973a, Maxmin 1973b (Sauroktonos); Borbein 1973, 157, 159-64, 173-78, 188-94, 199-205; Ridgway 1976 (Arles Aphrodite); Comstock & Vermeuleno. 56 (Chios head); Stewart 1977c (Leconfield head); Vierneisel-Schlörb 1979 nos. 28, 31-32 (Artemis, Knidia, Satyr and others); Pfrommer 1980 (Eros); Haskell 1981, 151-53, 198-99, 209-10, 330-31 (Sauroktonos, Satyr, Gabii Artemis, Knidia) LIMC 2.1: 49-52, 63-64 (Delivorrias, 1984, Aphrodites), 193-94 no. 39 (Palagia, 1984, Lykeios), 378 no. 53 (Simon, 1984, Sauroktonos), 637 no. 137, 640 no. 190 (Kahil 1984, Artemis); Pfrommer 1985 (Knidia — Hellenistic variants and original); LIMC 3: 856 nos. 6-7, 862 no. 78 (Hermary 1986, Erotes).

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