4. Aegean cultures. 

-SNAKE GODDESS One of the most striking finds at the palace at Knossos was the faience (low-fired opaque glasslike silicate) statuette popularly known as the Snake Goddess (FIG. 4-12). Reconstructed from many pieces, it is one of several similar figurines that some scholars believe may represent mortal attendants rather than a deity, although the prominently exposed breasts suggest that these figurines stand in the long line of prehistoric fertility images usually considered divinities. The Knossos woman holds snakes in her hands and also supports a leopardlike feline on her head. This implied power over the animal world also seems appropriate for a deity. The frontality of the figure is reminiscent of Egyptian and Near Eastern statuary, but the costume, with its open bodice and flounced skirt, is distinctly Minoan. If the statuette represents a goddess, as seems likely, then it is yet another example of how human beings fashion their gods in their own image.



-VENUS DE MILO In the Hellenistic period, sculptors regularly followed Praxiteles’ lead in undressing Aphrodite, but they also openly explored the eroticism of the nude female form. The famous Venus de Milo (FIG. 5-83) is a larger-than-life-size marble statue of Aphrodite found on Melos together with its inscribed base (now lost) signed by the sculptor, Alexandros of Antioch-on-the-Meander. In this statue, the goddess of love is more modestly draped than the Aphrodite of Knidos (FIG. 5-62) but is more overtly sexual. Her left hand (separately preserved) holds the apple Paris awarded her when he judged her the most beautiful goddess of all. Her right hand may have lightly grasped the edge of her drapery near the left hip in a halfhearted attempt to keep it from slipping farther down her body. The sculptor intentionally designed the work to tease the spectator, imbuing his partially draped Aphrodite with a sexuality absent from Praxiteles’ entirely nude image of the goddess.



– ANAVYSOS KOUROS Sometime around 530 BCE a young man named Kroisos died a hero’s death in battle, and his family erected a kouros statue (FIG. 5-10) over his grave at Anavysos, not far from Athens. Fortunately, some of the paint is preserved, giving a better sense of the statue’s original appearance. The inscribed base invites visitors to “stay and mourn at the tomb of dead Kroisos, whom raging Ares destroyed one day as he fought in the foremost ranks.” The statue, with its distinctive Archaic smile, is no more a portrait of a specific youth than is the New York kouros. But two generations later, without rejecting the Egyptian stance, the Greek sculptor rendered the human body in a far more naturalistic manner. The head is no longer too large for the body, and the face is more rounded, with swelling cheeks replacing the flat planes of the earlier work. The long hair does not form a stiff backdrop to the head but falls naturally over the back. Rounded hips replace the V-shaped ridges of the New York kouros.


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