The first is the famous "Bartlett Head," named for Francis Bartlett, who provided the funds for its acquisition by the MFA in 1900. Celebrated in rapturous prose by Henry James within a few years of its first appearance in Boston, it was carved from luminous marble shortly after Praxiteles's Knidos Aphrodite, and remains to this day one of the most admired examples of classical Greek sculpture. The life-size head fuses human beauty with a divine ideal in the 23 century A.D. that is as perfect and enigmatic as Venus de Milo (Bergeron 2). This goddess turns her head down to her lower right, as is indicated by the curve of the neck. This tilt, as well as the softness of the carving on the skin and the heavy lids, impart a certain gentle nature to the goddess, so that connoisseurs have been inclined to interpret her as Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. Her long, wavy hair is bound in a thin taenia (ribbon) that is wrapped twice around her head, and pulled back into a bun at the nape of the neck. Some locks are pulled up in loops at the top of her head, an effect that appears as a topknot, and has been referred to as lampadion ("little-torch") (see Boston 03.743 (Sculpture). The goddess's shadowed eyes, set deep in her softly modeled face, seem to carve out a sense of interiority, much as Degas's late bathers bend over an inviolate space defined by the contortions of their self-tending bodies (Smee 4f.).
A fresco from a villa in Pompeii, "Three Graces" (Roman, 1st Century AD, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples), shows the lovely attendants who assisted Aphrodite with her beauty regimen. The fresco depicts the daughters of Zeus, who doubled as Aphrodite's handmaidens. The three slender, nude bodies are set against a background of lush vegetation, and their arms are sensually interlocked (Owen 2). Mirrors, perfume, jewelry, and cosmetics feature images of the goddess and reflect her influence in this area. Among the objects on view revealing Aphrodite's role as adulterous seductress and instigator of sexual desire are the gilt-bronze Mirror with women bathing before a statue of Aphrodite on a pillar (Roman, AD 110 -- 117, MFA) and Mosaic panel (emblem) with cupid gathering roses in a garden (Roman, 2nd -- 3rd century AD, MFA), which attests to the erotic power and economic significance of the perfume industry in antiquity ("Aphrodite and the Gods of Love" 3).
Another highlight in the exhibition is "Sleeping Hermaphrodite," from the Roman Imperial period (1st century AD). Hermaphrodite was the child of Hermes and Aphrodite, and was born with a body of both male and female characteristics. The sculpture's back resembles the feminine and slender backs of the exhibit's other pieces, but the other side of the sleeping figure reveals Hermaphrodite's breasts and male genitalia. "Sleeping Hermaphrodite" bespeaks the period's acceptance, or at least acknowledgement, of androgyny and is one of the most captivating pieces in the exhibit (Owen 2).
"Aphrodite and the Gods of Love" is organized under the auspices of the President of the Italian Republic, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. Conservation support for objects in the exhibition was provided by the Leon Levy Foundation. Additional support was provided by The Hellenic Women's Club
(Aphrodite and the Gods of Love 1). I consider "Aphrodite and the Gods of Love" an absolute must-see for anyone interested in the powerful goddess that ancient writers and artists described as complex and even dangerous.
Works Cited List
"Aphrodite and the Gods of Love' Exhibit at MFA." Bostoniano.info. 27 October 2011. 2011. 1-4. Accessed 22 November 2011.
Aphrodite and the Gods of Love. 2011. Accessed 22 November 2011.