Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Presents Aphrodite and the Gods of Love

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston presents Aphrodite and the Gods of Love on view through February 20, 2012, in the Lois and Michael Torf Gallery.

Head of Aphrodite (“The Bartlett Head” ), Greek, about 330–300 B.C., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Ancient worshipers traveled to Mount Olympus in Greece or to temples in Cyprus to pay homage to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, but today, devotees can admire the beguiling divinity closer to home at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). it is the first museum exhibition of classical works devoted solely to Aphrodite (known as Venus to the Romans) and her realm—one that celebrates her likeness as the first female nude in western art history. It features some 160 works from the MFA’s Greek and Roman collection, among the finest holdings in the United States, and includes 13 important loans. Nine of these lent works are from Rome and Naples—including the spectacular Sleeping Hermaphrodite, which has left Italy only once prior to this exhibition. Aphrodite and the Gods of Love is sponsored by United Technologies Corporation. The catalogue was made possible by the A.G. Leventis Foundation. This exhibition 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. The multimedia guide was made possible by the John and Sonia Lingos Family Foundation.

“I am excited to welcome visitors to the realm of the sexy goddess Aphrodite and hope that her powers are still potent and present, as well as her wise ancient ways,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “The wonderful loans on view in the exhibition enhance the appreciation of Aphrodite and represent a continuation of the MFA’s longstanding relationship with Italy.”

Aphrodite and the Gods of Love aims to answer the questions, “Who was Aphrodite, and why was she so important to the Greeks and Romans?” In addition to celebrating the goddess’s legacy as an icon of romantic love and ideal beauty, the exhibition examines her more complicated nature as a powerful and sometimes capricious deity who influenced the daily lives of mortals, and explores the roles played by the other gods of love—Aphrodite’s children from her many love affairs—particularly the mischievous Eros. It also traces the first depiction of the female nude back to the Knidia, a life-size sculpture of Aphrodite made by the great 4th-century BC artist, Praxiteles, for her temple at Knidos, a Greek city in Asia Minor. This much-copied sculpture (the original has never been found) marked a turning point for the depiction of the female in western art.

“We are exceptionally fortunate to have the quality and depth of collection to offer this first-ever survey of Aphrodite, which draws largely from our own holdings and is complemented by generous loans from Italy,” said Christine Kondoleon, the MFA’s George and Margo Behrakis Senior Curator of Greek and Roman Art, who organized the exhibition. “I am proud that the MFA will host the goddess’s US debut, and I fully expect she will attract many new devotees.”

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