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The Works Of Praxiteles



THE circumstances under which this statue of Hermes with the babe Dionysus—the only work we have which is unquestionably from Praxiteles' own hand—was discovered, how it was identified, its possible political significance, and its probable date of execution, have already been briefly mentioned in the foregoing life of Praxiteles (see page 26). Although the `Hermes' must have lain where it was found for eleven centuries, the soft deposit of powdered brick into which it had fallen had wonderfully preserved the surface, although a fine moss had gathered upon the cheeks. The legs, right arm, and part of the pedestal were missing, and have never been recovered. One of the sandaled feet was found trodden into the ground, only slightly below the surface, some distance away; the head of the babe was discovered in a pile of debris near by; and its body had been built into a neighboring wall, although the draped legs were still clinging to their seat in the god's arm. The figure of Hermes is a little above life-size. His left hand doubt-less held the customary caduceus, while in his raised right hand was some object, probably a bunch of grapes, although a wine-cup, or the symbolic staff of Dionysus, tipped with a pine cone, has also been suggested. The statue is in the Museum at Olympia, Greece.

Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who corresponds to the Roman Bacchus, was the offspring of Zeus and Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes. Before the birth of the babe, however, Zeus, at Semele's request, appeared to her in his most terrible aspect as the god of lightning. The mother was instantly killed; and the babe thus prematurely born was saved from the same fate by a growth of cool ivy which miraculously sprang up about him. His father, Zeus, sewed the child up in his own thigh for a time, but later intrusted him to Hermes, the messenger of the gods, who carried him to the nymphs of Nysa, under whose fostering care he grew up. Praxiteles has represented Hermes on this journey and at a moment when he has stopped to rest, leaning the arm in which he carries the child upon a tree trunk.

" We can hardly term the work before us a group," writes Professor Wald-stein. "Our whole interest and attention are attracted by the god, and the infant Dionysus appears to exist only as a means to account for the expression of individual character and emotion in the Hermes. The head combines in its features all the characteristics of the youthful divinity—athlete and director of games, and swift-footed messenger of the gods—indicated by the firmly cut features and the crisp hair rising from the knit and vigorous brow. But what is most apparent in this head are softer and more gentle qualities. Hermes was the benign bestower of earthly prosperity, the reliever of the distressed, the bringer of sweet sleep, whose staff could `close the eyes of mortals,' the leader of the dead into Hades,—the most human of the Greek gods.

"The main features which Praxiteles has expressed are those of strength and tenderness. It is not a pure and simple type, such as the earlier times would have given us—strength in a Hercules and softness in a Dionysus—but a composite type of Herculean strength and of Bacchic softness, both harmoniously blended in the beautiful form of an athletic youth; strength and active energy, penetrated by passive pleasure. Strength is plastically indicated in the powerful limbs, the full chest, the modeling of the well-articulated muscles and sinews; while the apparent relaxation and the soft rest of these powerful limbs and of the well-rounded chest express the gentle element in this complex mood. The soft layer beneath the epidermis unites with its tranquil flow the sinewy muscles that lie below it into a gliding rhythm. The smooth surface, which seems to vibrate under the gaze of the spectator, covers all in lines of gentle yet potentially vigorous cadence.

"On the other hand, the languor and tenderness of the figure are expressed in the forward bending head, which in this position adds to the expression of dreamy abstractedness, and in the slight curve of the neck and shoulders, in the gentle uplifting of the right arm, as well as in the wavy curve of the flank and the outward swell of the hip (as intelligibly a line of soft melancholy as any minor passage of low and gliding violoncello tones in music)."


THE immense celebrity and the history of Praxiteles' masterpiece, the `Aphrodite of Cnidus,' have already been noted in our life of Praxiteles (page 24). The ancient writers did not specifically describe the famous original, but a late coin struck by the city of Cnidus, on which the statue was represented, shows that the goddess, laying her garment over a water jar, was just about to step into the bath, that her head was turned to the left, and that she held her right hand in front of her. By means of this coin at least fourteen copies or adaptions of the statue or its head have been discovered (compare plate IV). Incomparably the best of those which show the whole figure is that in the Vatican, Rome. Unfortunately the legs of the Vatican statue are hidden by a drapery of painted tin added in the eighteenth century, and the right hand has been clumsily restored and made to support this false drapery, quite regardless of the original pose! Though the Vatican authorities have refused to allow any photograph to be made without these disfiguring additions, a cast was obtained without them, and from it 'our illustration has been reproduced. Although ancient, and from a copy of the same original, the head of the Vatican statue does not belong to it, and is not quite rightly placed; it should be turned more to the side and not inclined so far forward to correspond with the image shown on the coin.

From the copy we can, of course, gain no idea of the subtler qualities of Praxiteles' masterpiece, but it will allow us to appreciate the exquisite poise, the harmonious rhythm of the lines and subtle flow of contours, and the contrast of the folded drapery with the smooth polish of the skin; and so far echoes the beauty of the original that a recent critic has called it "the loveliest image of budding womanhood in the world."

"Praxiteles"Aphrodite' is not naked and unashamed," writes Gardner; "rather her nudity is conscious. And here again we see the personal individuality in the conception. The master was not content to embody in his work merely his ideal of the goddess as she is, her beauty unveiled; but realizes, too, the feeling with which she shrinks from its exposure even for the bath—a feeling expressed in every line of face and figure—while she is conscious of her own beauty, and delights in it."


HEAD OF 'APHRODITE.' According to the ancient writers, the head of the `Aphrodite of Cnidus' was considered the most beautiful part of that famous work. A number of copies or adaptations of it have been found, among them those in the Louvre, in the Capitoline and Boncompagni Museums in Rome, and a small one of especial merit at Olympia. The best of all, however, now in the possession of Professor von Kaufmann in Berlin, is reproduced in our plate. It is of white marble, and somewhat above life-size. A fragment of the body to which it belonged leaves no doubt that it is a copy of the `Aphrodite of Cnidus'; and in the delicate transitions of the modeling, the arrangement and execution of the hair, the lines of the eye-lids and the eyes, the bend of the head upon the neck, and in the cutting of the half-opened lips, we may find, even in the copy, an echo of that penetrating charm which provoked such ecstatic admiration in those who beheld the original.

Professor Furtwangler believes that he has recognized a work by Praxiteles' own hand in another head of Aphrodite, known as the `Petworth Head,' which is in the collection of Lord Leconfield, London; but other critics seem reluctant to indorse this opinion.

HEAD OF `YOUNG HERCULES.' This charming head, generally known as the `Aberdeen Head,' from Lord Aberdeen, to whose collection it once be-longed, but which is now in the British Museum, has recently been acclaimed by some authorities as an original work by Praxiteles. The features, the treatment of the hair, drawing of the eyeballs, eyelids, and other details of modeling correspond so closely to the same points in the head of the `Hermes' that unquestionably the head remarkably approaches the Praxitelean type, and Miss Eugénie Sellers, who first called attention to its Praxitelean character, Professor Furtwangler, and recently Professor Klein of Prague, have been so struck with the analogies of technique and finish between this head and that of the `Hermes' that they have pronounced it in their judgment an original from the master's own hand. Whether other archaeologists will agree with this dictum remains to be seen.

The head has always been known as the `Young Hercules,' and until it can be better identified there seems to be no reason for changing the title.


THE reasons for attributing the original statue, of which this `Satyr' is a copy, to Praxiteles are that more reproductions of it exist than of any other ancient statue which has come down to us, thus pointing to a very celebrated original ; and that all critics agree that in conception, pose, and style it exhibits the distinctive characteristics which we have come to regard as those of Praxiteles. It is noteworthy that the graceful leaning pose almost symmetrically reverses the attitude of the `Apollo Sauroctonus.' But, although we know that Praxiteles carved at least three Satyr statues, the ancient writers have not described them sufficiently to make it possible to refer these copies to any one of the originals. Of many similar `Satyrs,' that here reproduced, from the Capitoline Museum, Rome, and popularly known as `The Marble Faun,' ranks first because of its fine preservation; although the nose, right forearm and hand, right foot, and parts of the left arm and foot have been restored.

In his description of this statue Hawthorne has delightfully expressed its distinctive qualities as a work of art: "The Faun," he says, "is the marble image of a young man leaning his right arm on the trunk or stump of a tree; one hand hangs carelessly by his side; in the other he holds the fragment of a pipe, or some such sylvan instrument of music. His only garment, a lion's skin, with the claws upon his shoulder, falls half-way down his back, leaving the limbs and entire front of the figure nude. The form thus displayed is marvelously graceful, but has a fuller and more rounded outline, more flesh and less of heroic muscle, than the old sculptors were wont to assign to their types of masculine beauty. The character of the face corresponds with the figure. It is most agreeable in outline and feature, but rounded and some-what voluptuously developed, especially about the throat and chin. The nose is almost straight, but very slightly curves inward, thereby acquiring an in-describable charm of geniality and humor. The mouth, with its full yet delicate lips, seems so nearly to smile outright that it calls forth a responsive smile. The whole statue, unlike anything else that ever was wrought in that severe material of marble, conveys the idea of an amiable and sensual creature,—easy, mirthful, apt for jollity, yet not incapable of being touched by pathos. It is impossible to gaze long at this stone image without conceiving a kindly sentiment toward it, as if its substance were warm to the touch, and imbued with actual life. . . .

"Only a sculptor of the finest imagination, the most delicate taste, the sweetest feeling, and the rarest artistic skill—in a word, a sculptor and poet, too—could have first dreamed of a Faun in this guise, and then have succeeded in imprisoning the sportive and frisky thing in marble. Neither man nor animal, and yet no monster; but a being in whom both races meet on friendly ground."

TORSO OF THE SATYR. A fragment of a similar copy of the `Satyr,' the celebrated Torso, now in the Louvre, is almost exactly identical in its lines with the torso of `The Marble Faun,' but it is so much superior in workman-ship, so delicately modeled in the flesh, and in the fine transitions between the flank and thigh, and the skin flung over the shoulders is so firmly treated in contrast with the flesh, that Professor Brunn has proclaimed it to be the body of the original `Satyr' by Praxiteles himself. The marble in which it is executed, however, is of a coarser grained and colder white sort than was used in any works of Praxiteles' time, so that this theory is hardly tenable.


PLINY tells us that Praxiteles carved, for some unknown location, a bronze statue of "a young Apollo with an arrow on the alert for a lizard which is creeping toward him, which men called the `Sauroctonus' (lizard-killer)." There exist, in various museums, a number of copies, evidently from the same original, which in attitude and action so exactly correspond to Pliny's description, and are so characteristic in treatment and type of Praxiteles' work, that there can be no doubt that they were intended to be more or less faithful reproductions of this statue. The best of these copies is a fine one in marble, now in the Vatican, Rome, which is reproduced in our plate; but by comparing it with the `Hermes' it will be apparent how much inferior in execution and in the rendering of finer shades of expression even so excellent a copy as this must have been to Praxiteles' original. We may, however, recognize as wholly Praxitelean the grace of the conception—for this fine and playful youth is "scarcely further from the rigidity and sternness of the earlier Apollos than is the lizard from the terrible python of mythology"—and the characteristic leaning attitude which allowed the sculptor to give the most flowing undulation to the lines of the figure.

The Vatican statue was found in 1777 on the Palatine Hill, Rome. It was seriously mutilated, and many portions of the face and limbs have been restored.


I N describing a -temple at Mantinea, Pausanias speaks of a triple group, `Leto, Apollo, and Artemis,' by Praxiteles which stood there, and adds: "On the pedestal are represented a Muse and Marsyas playing the flute. In 1887 M. Fougères discovered, near the site of the temple described- by Pausanias, three reliefs, laid face downward as blocks in the pavement of a Byzantine church, the subjects of which, provided we change the word "Muse" to "Muses," correspond to this description. As in size and proportions these slabs seem exactly suited to ornament a pedestal their identity can hardly be disputed. But, though they unquestionably belong in type to the period of Praxiteles, there is no sufficient reason to believe that they were actually carved by him. "Undeniably beautiful as some of the figures are," writes Overbeck, "and finely carried out as are some of the draperies, which in many respects remind us of the terra-cotta statuettes of Tanagra, the workmanship shows a certain hardness and carelessness which has led some authorities to think the reliefs may be copies of the original made at a later date; while others, missing the spontaneity and delicate touch of the master's hand, have pronounced them to be pupils' work for which Praxiteles perhaps made the design. In no case should they be valued as anything higher."

The three reliefs, of which two are reproduced in our plate, were evidently placed side by side in the front of the pedestal, that shown in the upper illustration being set in the middle. This relief shows Apollo seated, holding his harp, while Marsyas, whose agitated and violent attitude contrasts with the calm of the god, is playing on a flute. Between them stands a Phrygian slave with a drawn knife. The incident which the slabs represent is the musical contest between Marsyas, who according to some accounts was a peasant and according to others a satyr, and the god Apollo, with the Muses as judges. The god was, of course, victorious; and Marsyas, for his presumption in making the challenge, was flayed alive by a Phrygian slave.

The third slab, which is not reproduced in our plate, shows three more standing Muses. The slabs are now in the National Museum, Athens.


THIS beautiful bust of Pentelican marble represents, in a somewhat realistic style, and at a little more than life-size, an adolescent youth with a dreamy expression and hair falling in thick masses over his neck and forehead. It was discovered at Eleusis in 1885, and placed in the National Museum at Athens. Two years later Professor Benndorf of Vienna announced his conviction that it was an original work by Praxiteles, and that it represented Eubuleus, one of the divinities worshipped at Eleusis. In both conclusions Benndorf has been supported by Professor Furtwangler, and recently, by Professor Klein. "The point in Benndorf's argument which has best withstood the attacks made upon it," writes Professor Robinson, "is the re-semblance to the style of Praxiteles. The refinement of the face, the shape and setting of the eye, the sensitive modeling of the flesh, the contrast between the careful finish of the face and the rough sketchy treatment of the hair, are characteristics which have become distinctively associated with Praxiteles since the discovery of the `Hermes'; and the execution certainly shows the delicacy which betokens an original work." On the other hand, Kern and other eminent authorities, among them Helbig, Kalkmann, Reinach, and Gardner, do not believe that the bust is by Praxiteles nor that it represents Eubuleus.

That this bust was highly esteemed in antiquity is apparent from the fact that several copies of it have been found; but we have no literary mention to show that Praxiteles ever made such a head; and until further evidence is produced its attribution to him must be considered doubtful.


WE know that Praxiteles carved an 'Eros'—the Greek god of love—which he regarded as one of his most successful works; and indeed its ancient celebrity almost equaled that of the `Aphrodite of Cnidus.' Cicero says that Thespiae, where it was, was visited solely to see it, "there being no other reason for going there." Another `Eros' by Praxiteles stood at Parium, and is represented on the coins struck at that town, showing that the figure was that of a youth with wings, leaning his left elbow on a pillar, his weight supported on the right leg, like the `Hermes,' his right arm holding some undistinguishable object, and his head turned to the left.

For many years the theory prevailed that the excellent Vatican statue of ‘Eros'—called the `Eros of Centocelle' from the place where it was discovered, but more popularly known as `The Genius of the Vatican'—was a direct copy of one of these two statues. This opinion is no longer tenable. Most authorities now consider. that the Vatican `Eros' is a work of Roman art, dating from about the second century, and that it cannot be closely related to any original by Praxiteles. There is, however, something plainly reminiscent of the Praxitelean type in the full rich locks of hair, the graceful bend of the head, and the dreamy melancholy of the whole; and perhaps the most plausible theory is that this figure may be the result of many years of the copying of copies of one of the `Eros' figures by Praxiteles by sculptors who did not adhere very closely to the pose and details of the original.

( Originally Published 1902 )


The Art Of Praxiteles

The Works Of Praxiteles

A List Of The Principal Works Of Praxiteles Mentioned By Greek Or Roman Writers

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