The Aphrodite of Arles

Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway
1976 American Journal of Archaeology  
PLATE 23 Despite intensive and recent studies on the subject, our understanding of Hellenistic sculpture remains imperfect. In particular, it is still difficult to identify works in a classicizing style, which often are attributed to the Classical period proper. It is perhaps worth recalling here that the Aphrodite of Melos, which looks now so obviously Hellenistic in her rendering, could be considered a fourth century work as late as 1930; and controversy is still rife over such statues as the
more » ... Stephanos Athlete, the Idolino, and the Esquiline Venus. I have periodically attempted to redate some ancient works, with varying degrees of evidence and of success; I should like to make here one more suggestion as regards the dating of the so-called Aphrodite of Arles.' The type is named after a marble copy found in 1651 in the area of the Roman theater at Arles. This remains the most complete of the few replicas we possess, and its history deserves brief attention because of the circumstances of discovery and subsequent events." The statue was found by workmen digging a well for a priest living in the area of the theater. The head was found first, at a depth of over six feet, and spurred further excavation which subsequently yielded the torso and the draped legs of the figure. The arms, with whatever attributes they may have held, were never found, despite renewed excavation in 1684 at the request of King Louis XIV to whom the statue had been donated. This extensive search in the area of the original discovery seems to confirm that the head belongs to the torso with which it was found, despite the fact that no true join exists between the fragments. This conclusion is of considerable importance, since all other replicas of the type are headless; yet this single extant head has inevitably affected our stylistic evaluation of the type, since it greatly resembles the Knidia. It had been assumed that no major repair work had been carried out on the Arles statue at the time of its transfer to Versailles, except for the integration of the composition through the addition of arms and attributes. The sculptor Francois Girardon, who had been in charge of restoration, as we learn from the Royal accounts, was not simply interested in replacing the missing limbs of the mutilated figure. He was also responsible for settling the question of identification which had been debated since the finding of the work, with public opinion oscillating between Artemis and Aphrodite. By giving the Arles statue a mirror in the left hand and an apple in the right, Girardon followed the royal preference and performed what may be considered a hermeneutic "prosthesis" of long-lasting effect (pl. 23, fig. I ). Because of the somewhat polemic nature of his restorations, Girardon seems to have disregarded whatever evidence for the original pose the frag-
doi:10.2307/503410 fatcat:twif2nkskbcr7ld6yl37sq6lji