Greek sculptor Praxiteles is considered a major artist of the ancient world. Born in Athens in approximately 400 BC, he lived during fourth century BC, a period in which Athenian democracy was crisis-ridden. It was a time of great political upheaval, but also extraordinary cultural ferment. Praxiteles lived in Athens but also worked for other cities in Greece and Asia Minor. His mostly marble sculptures displayed both grace and deftness. His favorite subjects were deities, usually portrayed in their youth so as to elicit their more human attributes. Praxiteles chose to abandon the heroic, solemn tones of the classical period, introducing a more intimate style that put a premium on elegance and was much imitated. Many of his works were lost, surviving only through copies made by the artists who followed him.
The deities of Praxiteles are shown in everyday poses, adopting commonplace gestures that make them more human. Two of his younger works show a satyr pouring wine for a fellow satyr who is leaning against a tree. In the Artemis of Gabii, the sculptor portrayed Artemis in the act of buttoning his tunic. In Apollo Sauroktonos the god Apollo is captured while distracted, toying with a lizard like any other boy. In Hermes with the infant Dionysus, the god Hermes holds his baby brother Dionysus in his arms, gazing upon him tenderly. Characteristic of Praxiteles’ work was the equipoise of his bodies, always flexible and in harmony. His figures look relaxed and natural, and are often portrayed leaning up against something. His most famous statue was the Aphrodite of Cnidus, the first nude in the history of Western sculpture. The goddess is outlined as she’s about to slip into ritual bathwater. Having removed her clothes, she places them gently on an amphora beside her. His Aphrodite of Cnidus was one of the most oft-imitated artworks of the ancient age. Praxiteles died about 330 BC in Athens. His sons continuing in his footsteps, and the sculptor’s style would be an artistic reference point for future generations of sculptors.