Praxiteles (in ancient Greek Πραξιτέλης / Praxitélês), born around 395 BC, died before 326 BC, is from antiquity one of the most famous Greek sculptors. Varron writes thus: "Thanks to the excellence of his talent, Praxiteles is not unknown to any educated man ".

The work of Praxiteles is placed in the period of "second classicism" (around 370-330 B.C.), alongside other great Greek sculptors such as Leochares, Scopas, and Lysippus; they took up the models of the classical period while renewing representation by responding to the classical canons established by the works of Polyclitus, which can be seen in particular in new stylistic research, the emergence of new types, and a new balance.

His life is very poorly known: if his period of activity goes from 375 to 335 B.C., we do not even know with certainty his dates of birth and death. Tradition makes him the son of the sculptor Cephisodotus and the father of two other sculptors, Cephisodotus the Younger and Timarchus.

Ancient sources also mention his relationship with his model, the courtesan Phryne. She is supposed to have inspired one of the most famous statues of Antiquity, Aphrodite of Knidos. Thus Praxiteles is the first artist to have represented the full female nude in the great Greek sculpture.

The exact dates of Praxiteles are only approximate (around 370-330), but it is likely that he was no longer working at the time of Alexander the Great (356-323).

No original can be attributed to his hand with any certainty, but many statuary types are associated with him and have come down to modern times through Roman copies, terracotta figurines or coins.

Among the most famous are the Apollo sauroctone, the Diana of Gabies, the Eros of Centocelle, the Hermes carrying Dionysus as a child, the Satyr at rest, the pouring Satyr or the Venus of Arles. Recent discoveries or rediscoveries, such as the Satyr of Mazara del Vallo or the Despinis Head, have also reopened the debate on what we think we know about the art of Praxiteles.

Biography of Praxiteles

Little is known about the life of Praxiteles: we do not even know with certainty the year of his birth nor that of his death. Literary sources abound about him, but they are late: they do not date before the second century BC.

Pliny the Elder places his floruit (apogee) during the 104th Olympiad (i.e. 364-361 BC) and gives the sculptor Euphranor as his contemporary. This chronological range is corroborated by a statue base signed by Praxiteles, which bears the dedication of "Kleiokratéia, wife of Spoudias": this Spoudias is known as the opponent of Demosthenes in a plea dating from 361 BC.

Pausanias cites "the third generation after Alcamenes ", a pupil of Phidias, for the group of the Letoids of Mantinea. It is generally considered that Praxiteles was born around 395 or 400 BC.


The name "Praxiteles" means "the one who completes", "the one who carries out"; the Greeks give it rather to boys. Other known Praxiteles are sculptors, politicians or poets. The discovery of a dedication dated to the middle of the fourth century B.C. to a Praxiteles at Lebadée led to the idea that it could be the epiclesis (cult name) of a local deity or a hero. It has been objected that it could also be a dedication to Praxiteles, the sculptor - a practice attested elsewhere.

Praxiteles proclaimed himself an Athenian citizen in an inscription found at Leuctra. He is probably the son of the sculptor Cephisodotus, known for his statue of Peace bearing Wealth, although the filiation cannot be established with certainty:

Praxiteles does not mention his father's name in his signatures, and the floruit cited by Pliny for Cephisodotus, the 102nd Olympiad (i.e. 372-369 B.C.), seems to be very close to that of his son. The fact that one of Praxiteles' sons is also called Cephisodotus tends to corroborate the filiation: the Greek custom is for the eldest son to bear the name of his paternal grandfather.

It is also possible that Cephisodotus is not the father, but the father-in-law of Praxiteles. In any case, it is likely that Cephisodotus brought the young Praxiteles into his workshop at an early age: it is known that sculptors could start working at the age of 15.

The link between Praxiteles and Cephisodotus the Younger is attested by mentions in Plutarch and Pliny , as well as on several inscriptions, which also mention another son, Timarchos. Pliny places their flowering during the 121st Olympiad (i.e. 296-293 BC). It is generally believed that Cephisodotus the Younger was born around 360 B.C.

An inscription linked to him states that the family came from the Sybrid demesne (whose location is unknown), from the tribe Erechtheis ; it has been suggested, however, that it related to another family whose members would have borne the same name.

The family of Praxiteles is lost between 280 and 120 BC, but then four inscriptions mention a portraitist named Praxiteles, active in Athens during the first century BC, perhaps a descendant of the fourth-century sculptor.


Literature reports a multitude of anecdotes linking Praxiteles to the courtesan Phryne: these are the only ones that provide biographical elements on the sculptor. However, it is difficult to disentangle truth from fiction.

Phryne's main claim to fame is that she inspired the Aphrodite of Knidos:

"[Phryne], during the festival of the Eleusinia, and during that of Poseidon, took off her clothes and untied her hair in front of all the assembled Greeks and dived into the sea; after her, Apelles painted the Aphrodite Anadyomena; and the sculptor Praxiteles, her lover, sculpted the Aphrodite of Cnidus on her model. "

According to Pliny, Praxiteles made two statues: one covered with a veil, the other naked. People from the island of Cos who came to his workshop opted for the clothed version, "finding it modest and severe", while those from Knidos, in Asia Minor, bought the nude version.

Phryne would also have been the model for the Aphrodite of Thespia (of which the Venus of Arles is said to be a Roman copy), for a laughing courtesan and for two portraits. The first of these is located in Thespies , his birthplace, alongside the Aphrodite.

The other, in gilded bronze, is dedicated by Phryne herself in Delphi : it would have appeared between the king of Sparta Archidamos II and Philip II of Macedonia, thus exciting the anger of the Platonist Cratès. These portraits have been recognized in the Aphrodite Townley , in the head of Arles or in the one of the Tower of the Winds.

In an almost equally famous anecdote, Pausanias tells how she was offered the Eros of Thespia: Praxiteles promises her "the most beautiful of his works" but refuses to specify which one it is. A slave sent by her comes to warn the sculptor that his workshop is in flames; this one exclaims that all is lost if the Satyr and the Eros disappear.

Thus Phryne chose Eros, which she consecrated in the temple of the god at Thespies. This anecdote, like that of the purchase of the Aphrodites by the people of Cos and Knidos, lends credence to the idea that Praxiteles worked in his workshop in Athens and that buyers came to him, rather than the other way around: the mention of a large number of works in Asia Minor does not necessarily mean that the sculptor would have toured there.

The list of offerings that can be reconstructed in the literature allows us to sketch a rough chronology. First, Thespia was destroyed by Thebes in 371 BC, in the aftermath of the battle of Leuctra, and was not rebuilt until 338 BC. It is assumed that Phryne came to Athens after the destruction of her native city.

The offering of Eros would thus have been made between these two dates, to a city in ruins, of which only the temples were still functioning. For its part, the offering of his portrait at Delphi is necessarily placed after the third sacred war, that is, after 345-346 BC, the sanctuary having been devastated by the Phocidians during the conflict.

Beyond these offerings, it has been assumed without real reason that Praxiteles was a young man at the time of his meeting with Phryne. The Satyr of the Rue des Trépieds and the Eros of Thespies would be placed at the beginning of his career, which allows one to recognize the former in the type of the pouring Satyr, stylistically closer to the first classicism, and to place the type of the Satyr at rest at the end of his career.

The Aphrodite of Arles (known as the Venus of Arles), also marked by the influence of Polyclitus, would belong to the same period. Added to this is the fact that this Aphrodite is "only" half-naked, Praxiteles preparing the public before the total nude of his Aphrodite of Cnidus, which would be situated at the sculptor's flowering (364-361 BC) and would crown an affair begun earlier.

This reconstruction, born by Furtwängler, is based on anachronistic or specious considerations: a reasoning of the same type proposes to reverse the chronology of the Aphrodites of Arles and Cnidus based on the idea that the total nude represents Phryne in all the glory of her beauty, the veil of the Arlesian serving to conceal a somewhat faded nudity.

Phryne being renowned for the astronomical prices she charges, one wanted to see in this link a proof of the fortune of Praxiteles' family. Added to this is the fact that Cephisodotus the Younger was among the wealthiest Athenians: he paid for six liturgies, a kind of imposed patronage, of which two were alone.

His first main trier (financing of a complete trier and its crew) is dated 326-325 BC, after which the name of Praxiteles disappears from official documents: it has been deduced that Praxiteles had just died, bequeathing his fortune to his sons, which would have justified this exceptional taxation.

Work of Praxiteles


The traditional approach to reconstituting the corpus of works of an ancient sculptor consists in bringing together literary and material testimonies (inscriptions, coins, engraved stones) of the statues that have come down to us - for the great majority of them copies, replicas or Roman variants of the Greek originals.

In the case of Praxiteles, the sources are particularly numerous, which paradoxically does not help the work of the art historian. The main literary testimonies are the Natural History of the Roman Pliny the Elder and the Description of Greece by the Greek Pausanias.

The former discusses the work of Greek sculptors in its sections on metalwork (book XXXIV) and stonework (book XXXVI); the latter describes in what looks like a modern travel guide the works he saw during his journey in Greece.

The exploitation of these sources has important limitations: their authors lived respectively in the first and second centuries AD, that is, four and five centuries after Praxiteles. Their lists of works are therefore not necessarily exact, nor exhaustive. Secondly, the temptation to over-interpret is great, especially when the texts are vague or abstruse.

Thus, in a famous sentence, Pliny lists works by Praxiteles that he names in Greek - a Catagūsam, "a satyr that the Greeks call periboētos," a Stephanūsa, or a Pseliūmenē - terms with dubious meanings, perhaps poorly transmitted by the manuscript tradition, and which have therefore been interpreted, or even amended, in a wide variety of ways.

All in all, Praxiteles seems to have sculpted mainly effigies of deities or heroes: Eubouleus (the "Good Counselor"), Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, Dionysus, Eros, Hera, Hermes, Leto, maenads, Methè (Drunkenness), nymphs, Pan, Peitho (Persuasion), Poseidon, satyrs, Triptolemos, Tyche (Fate), Zeus, and the Twelve gods.

As for the human domain, we know a Diadumene, an charioteer and a warrior near his horse, as well as the statues already mentioned: a "weeping woman", a "laughing courtesan", a stephanousa (woman with a crown), a pselioumene (woman with bracelets?) and a canéphore. His activity as a portraitist is also well attested.

His statues were installed :

  • in Greece itself: in Athens, Delphi, Elis, Lebadaea, Mantinea, Megara, Messene, Olympia, Plataea and Thespia, as well as on the island of Cos, in the Dodecanese;
  • in Asia Minor: Alexandria of Caria, Knidos, Halicarnassus and Parion.

The corpus of existing statues attributed to Praxiteles himself, attached to his school or style, covers several dozen works. At the end of the 19th century, the art historian Adolf Furtwängler listed 27 Praxitelian types; today, Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, who favors a minimalist, even hypercritical approach, reduces this list to a single type, the Aphrodite of Knidos.

We follow here the typology retained by Alain Pasquier and Jean-Luc Martinez for the Praxiteles exhibition organized at the Louvre Museum in March-June 2007.

Praxiteles Originals?

We have six bases of signed statues by Praxiteles. Three of them are related to women: Kleiokrateia daughter of Polyeuktos  Archippe daughter of Cleogenes and Chairippe daughter of Philophron. The latter is known to be a priestess of Demeter and Korah, and the other two bases probably come from the same temple, of which Praxiteles would have been a sort of official portraitist.

In any case, these inscriptions shed light on a part of Praxiteles' work that is little mentioned in the literature, which focuses on his representations of deities.

Several other works, generally little known to the general public, have been attributed directly to the hand of the master, but these conjectures rarely meet with consensus.

The Altar of Artemis at Ephesus and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

Strabo attributes almost all of the sculpted decoration of the former to Praxiteles; Vitruvius makes him participate in the realization of the latter alongside Leochares, Bryaxis and Scopas.

These two mentions are generally considered doubtful : in both cases, the little that remains of the monuments does not allow us to verify anything. Moreover, the work at Halicarnassus poses problems of chronology; the letter Π engraved on four of the lions of the mausoleum's decoration is probably insufficient to conclude: it could more simply be the mark of the architect, Pytheos of Priene.

The Dancers of Delphi

This is a column from the northeast of the sanctuary of Pythian Apollo at Delphi, which was used to support a colossal bronze tripod. It bears the mark of the contractor Pantarkes of Argos, who was active at the end of the fourth century BC. The style of the figures in high relief that extend the column can be dated from 335 to 325 BC.

Two archaeologists thought they could read the name of the eponymous archon, Hippodamas (thus dating the column to 375 BC), and above all the signature of Praxiteles. However, no other specialist has been able to confirm the existence of this inscription on the base where it is supposed to be located.

The Ephebe of Marathon

This bronze statue, recovered in 1925 from the Bay of Marathon, depicts a young man carrying an object (now missing) with his left arm and snapping his fingers with his raised right hand. It is not linked to any statue mentioned in ancient texts, but bears a remarkable resemblance to the Pouring Satyr or the Hermes of Olympia.

On the basis of these stylistic considerations, and in the absence of a thorough technical analysis of the bronze, it has been suggested that it is an original by Praxiteles himself, his workshop or one of his sons ; others do not exclude that it is a Roman bronze imitating the style of the Second Classicism.

The base of Mantinea

These are three bas-relief panels discovered at Mantinea in 1887 representing Apollo and Marsyas, a group of three Muses, one of whom is sitting on a rock, and another group of three Muses, one of whom is holding a zither. It is possible that a missing panel represented another group of three Muses, bringing their total number to the traditional figure of nine.

These three reliefs have been identified as decorating the base of a group of divine statues by Praxiteles that Pausanias claims to have seen precisely at Mantinea, representing "a Muse and Marsyas playing the double flute. The panels were thus attributed, first to Praxiteles himself, then to his workshop.

The tripod base of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Discovered in the Rue des Trépieds, in Athens, in 1853, this triangular base represents a Dionysus carrying a long chiton and two Victories. It has been compared to another base discovered nearby, in the theater of Dionysus, which bears the following inscription:

"if in the past they were offered to the Hermes of the contests, these consecrated gifts are also suitable for Nikè (Victory), whom Praxiteles installed as a goddess to Bromios (Dionysus) in the glorious contests of the artists, under two tripods. "

A resemblance between the Dionysus and the type of Sardanapalus once attributed to Praxiteles has also been put forward, as well as between the drapery of the Victories and that of the Muses in the base of Mantinea.
However, the works placed "under the tripods" are more likely to be statues in the round, following a device known, for example, for the armed Aphrodite of the Spartan Amyclaeion.

The hypothesis has also been challenged by the discovery of a second copy of the base, of identical dimensions, which dates from the late Hellenistic period , or even from the Roman imperial period.

Hermes and his wake

Hermes carrying a child Dionysus

The Hermes of Olympia, one of the best known works attributed to Praxiteles and paradoxically the most discussed, was discovered in 1877 in the ruins of the temple of Hera in Olympia. Very quickly, it was compared to the Hermes carrying Dionysus as a child that Pausanias had seen in the same place, mentioned as being "the work of Praxiteles ".

However, the statue presents numerous stylistic peculiarities that make its dating, and even its attribution, uncertain: original by Praxiteles? Work of his sons? Roman copy of an original by Praxiteles? Hellenistic original with no relation to Praxiteles? The debate is all the more passionate since the Hermes has served and still serves as a touchstone for the Praxitelian corpus, to which works are added or subtracted according to whether or not they resemble the style of the Hermes.

The Leconfield head

Preserved at Petworth House, this female head representing Aphrodite was identified by Furtwängler as an original by Praxiteles on the basis of its resemblance to the Hermes of Olympia. Indeed, the modelling of the flesh, the sfumato of the features, the hairstyle and the rendering of the hair place this head, which was originally part of a draped statue, at the end of the fourth century BC.

The very high quality of execution also leads us to consider the work an original rather than a copy. In the absence of literary or epigraphic evidence to which the head could be linked, the attribution to Praxiteles remains, however, dependent on that of Hermes.

The Aberdeen head

Preserved in the British Museum, this male head is even closer to the Hermes of Olympia: it represents a young man of the same age; the features are the same - swollen forehead with a long furrow, deep-set eyes, prominent eyebrows; both heads display the same pensive look and the same slight smile.

On the basis of this resemblance, it has been seen as Hermes; the identification with a young Heracles or with a diadoch (Lysimachus?) has also been proposed.

The attribution of the head is a matter of dispute among scholars, although most favor an original. Proponents of a low dating of the Hermes place the Aberdeen head in the Early Hellenistic period (early second century BC).

Others see in it the hand of the master, but the comparison with the Hermes does not always turn to the advantage of the same work: one considers that the Aberdeen head is inferior to the Hermes while for the other, the superior quality of the former proves that the latter is only a copy.

The bust of Eubouleus

Found at Eleusis and preserved in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, this bust depicts a young man with bushy hair, whom Furtwängler recognized as the chtonian hero Eubouleus, associated with the Eleusinian mystery cult. Now, an acephalous hermaic pillar in the Vatican Museums bears the inscription Εὐϐουλεὑς Πραξιτέλους ("Eubouleus of Praxiteles").

This mention, and the similarity between the surface treatment of Eubouleus and that of the Hermes of Olympia prompted an attribution to the hand of Praxiteles himself.

However, as Furtwängler has already pointed out, the head of Eleusis does not belong to the Hermes pillar: it comes from a complete draped statue that was later transformed into a bust, and there are other examples of the same type.

In fact, the head poses several problems, starting with its subject: it has been suggested that Eubouleus was his brother Triptolemus by Leochares or Bryaxis or, in a completely different genre, Alexander the Great.

The connection with the Praxitolian style has also been disputed. The modification of the bust does not allow us to be sure of its stylistic characteristics, so caution is probably called for when attributing it to Praxiteles.

Praxiteles revised and corrected?
The Despinis head

This colossal female head from the Acropolis bears the name of the art historian George Despinis, who brought it out of the anonymity of the reserves of the Museum of the Ancient Agora in Athens to propose it as an original fragment of the Artemis Brauronia that Pausanias gave to Praxiteles.

A stylistic comparison with the Dancers of Delphi and the Themis of Rhamnonte allows him to date the work to the end of the fourth century B.C., i.e. to the very end of the master's career. The main objection to this hypothesis is that the head, with its powerful and severe features, hardly resembles the idea of the Praxitellian style, marked by grace and delicacy.

The satyr of Mazara del Vallo

This bronze statue was discovered in 1997 in the Sicilian canal, between Malta and Italy. It represents a dancing drunken satyr, his head inverted and his left leg violently raised backwards, in a posture that is very frequently found in neo-Attic or Roman decorative productions.

It has been proposed that it is an original by Praxiteles on the basis of a new interpretation of a passage in Pliny mentioning "a satyr whom the Greeks call periboētos." Since Winckelmann, this word has traditionally been translated as "famous," and the work cited by Pliny is identified with the resting Satyr or the pouring Satyr.

The new hypothesis, based on a passage from a speech by Plato, proposes the meaning "that shouts with frenzy," and notes stylistic similarities between the Satyr and the Aphrodite of Cnidus or the Apollo of Cleveland, a recently recovered bronze example of the Sauroctonic Apollo. The hypothesis has been widely criticized, the style of the Mazara Satyr being considered too foreign to that of Praxiteles.

The reliable types

The types are presented in order of certainty, again following the classification of Pasquier and Martinez.

The Aphrodite of Cnidus

The type is one of the most famous of Greek sculpture, and this from Antiquity. Pliny proclaims that "above all the works, not only of Praxiteles, but of all the earth, there is the Venus: many have made the trip to Knidos to see her.

For the first time in the great Greek statuary, she represents, in Paros marble, a woman - in this case, a goddess - entirely naked90 : standing, the goddess holds her cloak with her left hand, while she holds her right hand in front of her sex.

The traditional interpretation is that the goddess is represented as surprised when she comes out of the bath : if we are to believe the epigrams of the Greek Anthology, Praxiteles would have testified at first hand: "Alas, alas! Where has Praxiteles seen me naked!" exclaims the goddess in one of them.

This interpretation has been contested: it is not a genre scene, but a true epiphany where nudity symbolizes the fertility and erotic power of the goddess. Far from concealing her sex, Aphrodite would thus designate it to her followers.

The examples of the Cnidian type are particularly numerous, the pose and details (hairstyle, support, etc.) sometimes varying considerably from one to another.

Their connection to the original work of Praxiteles is attested by the representation of the type on coins of Cnidus minted during the reign of Caracalla. The so-called "Belvedere Venus", preserved in the reserves of the Pio-Clementino Museum in the Vatican, is often considered to be the closest to the original given its resemblance to the latter.

Other types of statues representing Aphrodite have also been attributed to Praxiteles: the Venus of Arles, half undressed, linked by Furtwängler to the early days of the sculptor, or the Aphrodite Richelieu, dressed in a long chiton and identified by the same author as the statue bought by the people of Cos.

The Apollo sauroctone

Mainly represented by the Borghese Sauroctone in the Louvre, the type has been linked to Pliny's mention of a "young Apollo, watching with an arrow for a crawling lizard, and which is called sauroctone ", completed by ancient intaglios and coins.

The scene is traditionally interpreted as an evocation in the minor mode of the fight between Apollo and the serpent Python, after which the god makes Delphi his territory. However, it is not clear why Praxiteles would have chosen to erase the violence of the story: the gesture of the Saurocton still remains mysterious.

The identification has been contested for stylistic reasons: the graceful, even effeminate appearance of the god, the hairstyle and the genre scene would rather refer to the Hellenistic period. It is, however, accepted by most scholars.

Praxiteles The satyrs

The literature mentions four times satyrs of Praxiteles:

  • a "Satyr, work of Praxiteles, in marble of Paros", seen by Pausanias in the temple of Dionysus in Megara;
  • a " Satyr of the street of the Tripods " seen by Pausanias in Athens, hero of the anecdote of the false fire in the workshop of Praxiteles, probably in bronze, contemporary of an Eros;
  • a "child satyr" pouring wine to Dionysus, quoted by Pausanias following the mention of the satyr of the rue des Trépieds;
  • a bronze satyr that, according to Pliny, "the Greeks call periboêtos" (traditionally translated as "famous"), cited with a Liber Pater (Dionysus) and a Methè (drunkenness).

Since Winckelmann, the "famous" Satyr has traditionally been linked to the type known as the "resting Satyr", of which the hundred or so known examples attest to its fame in Roman times; it represents a young satyr nonchalantly leaning on a tree trunk.

The satyr of the rue des Trépieds, who would be the same as the child satyr, is recognized in the type of the pouring satyr, which represents a young satyr strongly humanized holding in the raised right hand an oenochoe (wine jug), with which he pours wine into another container held with the left hand.

The style of the two Satyrs is quite different. In the case of the pouring Satyr, the treatment of the hair, the still Lysippean weight and a certain vision of the artist's biography - Praxiteles would have been young at the time of his affair with Phryne - incite to place the work at the beginning of Praxiteles' career. The more daring dynamism of the Satyr at Rest favors a dating at the end of the sculptor's career.

It has been objected that the representation of a satyr alone - out of any narrative or allegorical context -, and moreover of natural size and humanized, was not conceivable in the round in the classical period. The pouring Satyr would be a Hellenistic or even Roman creation, transcribing into three dimensions representations previously known on bas-reliefs.

As for the Satyr at rest, his head with its powerful features and leonine hair seems very different from the known style of Praxiteles. Finally, there is no argument for or against linking it to the master.

The Hellenistic and Roman Praxiteles corpus

Praxiteles' father, Cephisodotus the Elder, was also a sculptor, as were his two sons, Cephisodotus the Younger and Timarchos. He is also known to have had at least one disciple, Papylos.

The temptation is great to attribute to the workshop or to the sons a work whose manner seems Praxilian, but which does not quite coincide with the sculptor, for example for a question of dates. However, it is difficult to determine what the influence of a master like Praxiteles might have been on his immediate entourage and beyond, on Hellenistic and then Roman sculpture.

Male representations

The influence of Praxiteles on later sculpture was mainly reflected in the male nudes by a pronounced hipness and a grace bordering on softness and effeminacy, giving rise to more or less acrobatic attributions to the Athenian master. The Antinous of Belvedere and Hermes Andros, which can be dated to the Early Hellenistic period, remain fairly close to the Hermes of Olympia in the treatment of the musculature, the pose and the conformation of the head.

On the other hand, the Dionysus Richelieu, with its underdeveloped muscles, alludes to Praxiteles without citing a specific work and is rather related to the so-called "classicizing" school of the first century B.C.

Eclecticism is brought to its height in the works of Pasiteles and his entourage, which mix Praxitelesque elements with memories of the severe style of the fifth century B.C. Similarly, in the Roman period, the group of Ildefonso combines the type of the Sauroctone with the type of the Westmacott Ephebe of Polyclitus, almost a century distant.

The Eros

The literature attributes two statues of Eros to Praxiteles. One is the one known as "of Thespies", involved in the anecdote of the false fire. Installed in the temple of Eros of this island, it is worth to him only, notes Cicero, the detour by a city which does not present otherwise notable attractions.

After several trips back and forth between Thespia and Rome, it was destroyed by fire during the reign of Titus and replaced by a copy. Furtwängler recognizes it in the so-called "Centocelle" type, widely recognized today as an eclectic work, borrowing notably from Polyclitus and Euphranor.

The Farnese-Steinhaüser type, already attributed to Praxiteles by Furtwängler on the basis of its resemblance to the Pouring Satyr, has also been proposed. This hypothesis proposes to unite the Eros of Thespia, the Farnese-Steinhaüser type and Callistrate's description of an Eros, the work of Praxiteles, seen in an unspecified place.

However, Callistrate insists on the skilful workmanship of the bronze of his Eros, whereas that of Thespia, according to Pausanias, is in pentelic marble: it is thus not the same work. Moreover, the Eros of Callistratus holds a bow in his left hand, whereas in the Farnese-Steinhaüser Eros, the bow is on the support: here again, the identification must be abandoned.

The second Eros is the so-called Parion Eros, which, according to Pliny , is as well known as the Aphrodite of Knidos itself and is probably made of bronze, since it is cited in the chapter on metalwork.

It has been linked to coins from Parion, minted from the reign of Antoninus the Pious to that of Philip the Arab, showing a winged figure resting on the right leg, the right hand extended to the side and the left arm bent - a representation that corresponds in its broad outlines to the Borghese Genius in the Louvre and to other statues from Cos and Nicopolis ad Istrum.

However, the numismatic type includes a mantle thrown over the left shoulder, which is not found in any of the statues. It has also been objected that they differed too much from each other to form a true type and that conversely, their commonalities were found in many other dissimilar statues.

The Lycian Apollo

This type, known from about a hundred copies (statues and figurines) and coins from the first century B.C., represents the god leaning on a support (tree trunk or tripod) and his right arm folded over his head; his hair is tied in a braid on top of his head, in a hairstyle characteristic of childhood.

It is called "Lycian" because it is identified with a lost work described by Lucian of Samosata as appearing in the Lykeion, one of the gymnasiums of Athens.

No literary source links this type to Praxiteles, but the attribution is traditionally proposed on the basis of its resemblance to the Hermes of Olympia - a replica of the Lykeion was once thought to be a copy of the Hermes.

The comparison is based primarily on what was long thought to be a copy of the Lycian: the Apollino (or Medici Apollo) in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, whose head has proportions close to that of the Aphrodite of Knidos and whose pronounced sfumato is consistent with the long-held view of Praxiteles' style.

However, most of the examples of the type show a marked musculature that hardly resembles the male types usually attributed to Praxiteles: it has been suggested that it is the work of Euphranor, his contemporary, or a creation of the first century B.C. The Apollino, on the other hand, would be an eclectic creation of the Roman period, mixing several styles of the second classicism.

Female representations

The Praxilian influence in female representation is first felt through the Aphrodite of Knidos. In the variant of the Capitoline Aphrodite, her forms are more luscious and her nudity more provocative; the gesture of the two hands hiding her breasts and sex attracts the viewer's attention more than it hides.

It was also thought that the Praxitian style could be recognized in a certain type of drapery and the so-called "melon rib" hairstyle, two characteristics derived from the Mantinean base.

The Artemis

According to Pausanias , Praxiteles is the author of the effigy of Artemis in the Brauronion of the Acropolis of Athens. Inventories of the temple dating from the fourth century B.C. indeed mention, among other things, an "erect statue " described as representing the goddess wrapped in a chitoniskos. It is also known that the cult of Artemis Brauronia included the consecration of clothes offered by women.

The work has long been recognized in the Diana of Gabies, a statue exhibited in the Louvre Museum which represents a young woman standing, dressed in a short chiton and clasping the fibula of a cloak on her right shoulder: the goddess would be shown accepting the gift of her followers.

The resemblance of the head to that of the Aphrodite of Knidos and the Apollo sauroctone has also been noted. However, the identification has been questioned on several grounds.

First, the inventories discovered in Athens turned out to be copies of those of the sanctuary of Brauron: it is not certain that the Athenian cult also included the offering of clothes. Secondly, the short chiton would be anachronistic in the fourth century : on this basis, the statue would rather be from the Hellenistic period.

The Artemis of Dresden has also been proposed : known from numerous replicas, it represents the goddess wearing an unbelted peplos with a long flap and raising her right arm as if she were drawing an arrow from her quiver. The general attitude is similar to that of Eirene carrying Plutos by Cephisodotus the Elder, and the eponymous copy in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen of Dresden, if not the others, has a completely Praxilian head.

Furtwängler places it in the wake of the Aphrodite of Arles (known as the Venus of Arles), all of these arguments motivating an attribution to young Praxiteles. It has been objected that the long-flap peplos did not appear before the second half of the fourth century, to which the weight and attitude of the body, with the bust thrown back, also seem to refer.

Secondly, no other peplophore is known in the work of Praxiteles. Finally, the statue is not really related to any of the statues of Artemis attributed to the sculptor, especially since the identification of Artemis Brauronia proposed by Georges Despinis.

The Herculanea

This double type takes its name from two statues discovered at the beginning of the eighteenth century in Herculaneum, representing two women dressed in a chiton and a cloak, with similar attitudes:

the Great Herculanea has a veiled head while the Little Herculanea is smaller and has a bare head; both hold a part of their cloak with their left hand. They were very popular in imperial Rome: matrons were represented in the pose of the former and young girls in the latter.

Because of their great resemblance to the central Muse on the plaque inv.  from the base of Mantinea, the traditional interpretation has linked them to Praxiteles, and more precisely to the group representing Demeter and her daughter Persephone that Pausanias sees in the temple of Demeter in Athens - perhaps the same one that Pliny the Elder sees in Rome later.

Recent work challenges this interpretation: the attributes alone do not allow for a conclusion, and the type is found in non-Eleusinian contexts. Moreover, the attitude of the Herculanea is not identical to that of the Muse of Mantinea, but seems to exceed it.

Knowing that the type of the Great Herculanea is found on a Ceramic stele of before 317 BC, we are probably dealing with a sculptor who knew Praxiteles well, perhaps a member of his workshop.

Also in the tradition of the Mantinean base is the Sophocles of the Lateran, which combines the gesture of the right arm of the central Muse on the inv. 215 plate with the attitude of the left arm of the Muse with the zither on the inv. 217 plate.

However, it is known that Lycurgus had a posthumous portrait of Sophocles erected in the Theater of Dionysus; knowing that Cephisodotus the Younger and his brother Timarchus were the authors of a portrait of Lycurgus and his sons, the two sculptors could also be the originators of the Sophocles.

The art of Praxiteles

Technical elements

The ancient literature is sparse on the details of Praxiteles' style: in Pliny's time, amateurs sometimes had difficulty differentiating the works of Praxiteles and those of Scopas, his contemporary. We know that the sculptor preferred marble to bronze: Pliny notes that "he was happier and also more famous for his works in marble; that said, he also made very beautiful works in bronze. "

This fact is indeed remarkable, since the sculptor's work is not only in marble but also in bronze. The fact is indeed remarkable, since bronze has been the noble material for sculpture in the round since the beginning of the fifth century BC.

The Roman also specifies that the sculptor frequently resorted to the painter Nicias to carry out the painted decoration (circumlitio) of his statues : Greek sculpture in marble was systematically polychrome. What we know of Nicias' art, i.e. a particular attention paid to the effects of light and shadows , seems to fit particularly well with the sfumato considered characteristic of Praxiteles' works.

Pliny, moreover, cites the sculptor among the possible inventors of γάνωσις / gánôsis, a kind of encaustic primer of which the ancient texts do not make it possible to understand what exactly it consisted of, testifying to the important influence of mural painting on sculpture in the Second Classicism.

Praxiteles Elements of style

A set of characteristics derived primarily from the Hermes Carrying Dionysus as a Child and the Sauroctonian Apollo are referred to as the "Praxitolian style":

  • a grace and delicacy bordering on effeminacy for the male representations, which breaks with the representation of the muscular virile athlete of vigor during early classicism;
  • a pronounced hip, coupled with a leaning pose for the male representations, going beyond the weighted contrapposto of Polyclète to achieve an "S curve" formed by the body;
  • the sfumato of facial features and anatomical details, that is to say the blurring of edges and lines in favor of very soft transitions;
  • a naturalistic treatment of the draperies;
  • the inclusion in the composition of trees, draperies and other supporting elements;
  • the contrast between the suppleness of the flesh and the vigor of the hair.

Praxiteles modified the traditional representation of deities, imposing the nude for Aphrodite and youth for Apollo. The predominance of the goddess of love, Eros and the Dionysian world in his repertoire is, however, part of a broader trend: these subjects can also be found in vase painting or in the minor arts.

In general, the art of Praxiteles is more in continuity than in rupture compared to the preceding sculpture: "the construction of its works takes again, prolongs, enriches the research started by the successors of Polyclète and Phidias", notes the archaeologist Claude Rolley.

The "fundamentally erotic " character of his sculpture has often been commented upon: ancient literature indeed provides a certain number of anecdotes on the assaults suffered by the Aphrodite of Knidos and the Eros of Parion from admirers who were a little too enthusiastic.

When Lucian of Samosate, in the first century AD, shows the heroes of his Amours commenting on the Aphrodite of Knidos, the description resembles that of a real woman rather than a statue:

"What generous flanks, conducive to full embraces! How the flesh surrounds the buttocks with beautiful curves, without neglecting the protrusion of the bones, and without being invaded by an excess of fat!"

The rhetorician Callistrate does the same in his Descriptions, commenting on the "look full of desire mixed with modesty, filled with aphrodisiac grace " of a Diadumene attributed to the sculptor. However, these visions are those of Romanized spectators: it is difficult to say how Praxiteles' works were perceived by the sensibility of the fourth century BC.

Unfortunately, the fortuitous transmission of the statues does not allow us to know the part of his work dedicated to architectural sculpture or portraiture.

The inspiration of Praxiteles

Part of Praxiteles' work is devoted to deities celebrated in the Eleusis mysteries: the group of Demeter, Persephone and Iacchos located in the temple of Demeter in Athens; the group of Coré, Triptolème and Demeter in Athens; the abduction of Persephone in Athens or a bust of Eubouleus.

If we add the signed bases directly or indirectly related to the temple of Demeter in Athens, it is tempting to see in them the testimony of a particular religious fervor of the sculptor. It has been objected that devotion to the cults of Eleusis was very widespread in Athens at that time and that the works testify more to the fervor of the patron than to that of the artist.

Praxiteles' work has also been seen as Platonic: contrary to the "realistic" anecdotes where the sculptor takes Phryne as a model of the Aphrodite of Knidos, epigrams from the Greek Anthology show him going beyond sensible appearances to represent the very idea of beauty:

"Praxiteles saw no forbidden spectacle, but iron / polished the Paphian such as Ares desired" or again, "You are not the work of Praxiteles, nor that of iron / but you stand as you were at the judgment [of Paris]. "

Praxiteles in the modern era

For a long time, Praxiteles was known only through literary sources and a few fanciful attributions, such as one of the groups known as Alexander and Bucephalus in the Quirinale square in Rome. The first work to be correctly attributed to him is probably the fragmentary statue of the type of Aphrodite of Knidos known as Aphrodite Braschi, present in Rome from around 1500.

The name of Praxiteles itself is prestigious: during the Renaissance, Michelangelo was considered a new Praxiteles. The Sauroctone Richelieu shows that at the beginning of the seventeenth century, restorers knew how to bring ancient fragments closer to ancient texts, but it was not until the eighteenth century that the Sauroctone mentioned by Pliny was formally recognized:

Baron von Stosch first made the connection with an engraved stone, then Winckelmann linked the latter with the Borghese Sauroctone and a small bronze from the Villa Albani.

In the eighteenth century, Winckelmann saw in Praxiteles the inventor of the "beautiful style", characterized by grace. The Aphrodite of Cnidus, the Satyr at Rest, the Sauroctone and the Pouring Satyr are well known, and sometimes cited by the sculpture or painting of the period, such as Bertel Thorvaldsen's Ganymede, a cupbearer (1816), which repeats the pose of the Pourer.

A Praxitelian influence can also be found in Antonio Canova. The sculptor was, however, overshadowed by Phidias, and the sculptures of the Parthenon that Lord Elgin brought back from Athens.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the so-called "Atticist" movement, inspired by severe art, was rivaled by the so-called "Hellenist" movement, inspired more by Praxiteles and Hellenistic art, of which James Pradier was undoubtedly the best representative, but which sometimes degenerated into a search for the pretty and picturesque. Praxiteles also occupied an important place in the history of art.

Praxiteles also occupies a place of choice in artistic teaching: the statues attributed to him are abundantly reproduced by molding, or represented on the first photographs.

They were also copied: thus, the jury of the Académie de France in Rome declared about a copy of the Satyr at Rest by Théodore-Charles Gruyère, winner of the Prix de Rome in 1839, that "by choosing as the subject of his copy the famous Faun of the Capitol, one of the antique repetitions of Praxiteles's faun, the artist had already demonstrated his judgment and taste.

Praxiteles also figures prominently in the sculpted decor of the Cour Carrée of the Louvre palace, whether among the copies of antiques (an Apollino, two Diana de Gabies, a Satyr at rest) or among the creations entrusted to contemporary sculptors.

An opera in one act, Praxitèle, by Jeanne-Hippolyte Devismes, on a libretto by Jean-Baptiste de Milcent, was created on July 24, 1800 at the Paris Opera.

The beginning of the 20th century saw a return of the pendulum in favor of severe art, of which Bourdelle and especially Maillol were the best representatives. The latter in particular showed a marked detestation for Praxiteles.

After having seen the sculptures of the temple of Zeus in Olympia and then the Hermes, he wrote about the latter: "It's pompous, it's awful, it's sculpted as if in Marseille soap. [Praxiteles] for me, it is the Bouguereau of sculpture, the first fireman of Greece, the first member of the Institute!

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