One of the most famous works of art in antiquity was the cult statue of the goddess Aphrodite from her temple at Knidos, sculpted by the Greek master Praxiteles in circa 350 B.C. According to later Roman writers, the statue was originally commissioned by the citizens of Kos. Praxiteles sculpted two versions for them, one draped, the other nude. The prudish citizens of Kos rejected the nude version, which was then acquired by the citizens of Knidos. They erected the statue in an open-air temple, affording a splendid view of Praxiteles' masterpiece from all angles. It is thought that this was the first full-scale depiction of the female nude in all of Greek art. The statue's fame became so great that numerous copies and variations were made during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, from full-scale replicas in marble for temples and villas, to small bronze and terracotta statuary for household shrines, to depictions on engraved gems for personal adornment.
Although the original does not survive, enough is known about the Knidia (as she is called today) from the literary descriptions and these later copies that the type has been confidently identified. The goddess is shown standing, dropping her garment upon a vase, perhaps in preparation for her bath. Her left hand is positioned over her pudendum, her right hand over breasts, in a gesture that has traditionally been interpreted as the goddess' modesty. This is now recognized as a Victorian conceit, since there is no mythological basis to support such a view. The pose is now thought to depict the goddess emphasizing her fertility rather than hiding it (see Ridgway, Fourth-Century Styles in Greek Sculpture, p. 263).
The standing nude Aphrodite has been as popular in modern times as it was in antiquity. The most famous versions of the Knidia are the Capitoline Venus in Rome, found during the mid 17th century, the Venus de' Medici in Florence, documented already in 1638, and the Barberini/Jenkins Venus, known by 1738 and bought by William Weddell from Thomas Jenkins around 1765 for a then record price. All were on the list of obligatory ancient statues to be seen by European travelers on the Grand Tour in Italy. The present torso shares with the Knidia, and the later versions, the same exquisite modelling and posture. Like the Barberini/Jenkins Venus, she has been given decorative armbands and there are tendrils of hair falling onto each shoulder. For the Capitoline Venus, see no. 409 in Delivorrias, "Aphrodite," in LIMC; for the Venus de' Medici see no. 419 in Delivorrias, op. cit.; for the Barberini/Jenkins Venus, see Christie's, London, 13 June 2002, lot 112.