Aphrodite Cyprus Art
Aphrodite the Cypriot. Aphrodite, the object of desire. The enchantress, the seductress, the schemer. Aphrodite was a goddess of contrasts; she was a mother and a “sinner”, dominant yet insecure, forever passionate and never indifferent. The twelve gods of ancient Greece were established long before Judaism, Christianity and Islam created a moral universe full of prohibitions. Aphrodite, second only to Zeus in fame, took advantage of that knowledge to the fullest. In today’s world, she would be forbidden fruit. Nevertheless, in Greek mythology she was regarded as the ultimate goddess.
For free-spirited artists, brazen and eager in their attempts to defy decorum, Aphrodite represented more than just a goddess. She represented a wellspring of inspiration from which they could draw forth their vision of the world around them. Hers was a world full of passion, unbridled emotion and free from institutional rule. Cyprus, the sun kissed island surrounded by the endless blue of the Mediterranean, was the perfect setting in which to render their creations; so convenient that, according to Greek mythology, it was the birthplace of the goddess herself!
Following the myth of Aphrodite (Venus in the Roman Pantheon, and held in high esteem) as portrayed by some of the most celebrated painters in history, we have at our disposal masterworks of art with the power to draw us in to another world where Cyprus plays a much more significant role than a simple backdrop to the story.
The emerging Aphrodite
In a setting that could go far beyond what is considered grotesque, yet nevertheless entertaining (it’s Greek mythology after all), Kronos (Zeus’ father) castrates his father Uranus to claim rulership over mortals and immortals alike. Aphrodite is born of the foam (“aphros”) created by the splash made when Uranus’ organs are thrown into the sea. This event marks the moment the goddess first sets foot on the island of Cyprus.
Full of passion
Aphrodite knows no restrictions. Zeus forced her to marry the most repellant god of all, Hephaestus, when he realized that all the other gods were prepared to die for her. However, she had no intention of remaining faithful and had hundreds of lovers and conceived children with many of them – each one becoming a unique hero in Greek mythology.
Aphrodite in Cyprus
It’s not only that she was born here; she left her mark on the island by having a profound effect on its most important inhabitants. For example, Pygmalion, who was a mythical king that once fell in love with an ivory statue of the goddess, was then given a real woman, Galatea, who was the spitting image of the statue. He married her and they had a child, Paphos (which is where the name of the area originates from).
The sensual VENUS
The fact that the courtesans considered Aphrodite as their guardian goddess is not a mere coincidence. Aphrodite received everything and anything she set her heart on and in her efforts to do so, never hesitated. This was incredibly convenient for Renaissance artists and their successors, since they found a heroine willing to expose her beauty without reservations.
The decisive goddess
Nevertheless, whatever Aphrodite symbolized and as much of Cyprus as she carried within her, she was a goddess above all. A member of the omnipresent, all-powerful twelve gods of ancient Greece, whose decisions ruled the mortal world, she was a warrior, a goddess of fertility, and the mother and queen of the Underworld. Above all, she was decisive, even when carried away by her passions.
Adonis, Aphrodite’s mortal love, was the most handsome young man according to ancient Greek mythology. Tiziano, the most prominent representative of the Venetian School during the Renaissance, was enamoured of Aphrodite and depicted her in many of his renowned paintings. Perhaps more emblematic than any other, Tiziano’s 16th century “Aphrodite and Adonis” illustrates the goddess’ powerful allure which, in this case, caused her mortal lover to choose a troubled life divided between two worlds.
“Olympia” by Édouard Manet is a 19th century painting that stands between realism and impressionism and introduces one of the most famous goddesses of Olympus in a sensual setting, during a time when colonialism was responsible for merging civilizations in the most interesting of ways. Earlier (in the 17th century), a view from behind accompanied by a blurry image of Aphrodite in a mirror, was enough for Diego Velazquez to ignite our imagination.
Perhaps the most famous work of art depicting the Cypriot goddess is “The Venus de Milo”, a marble sculpture that dates back to the 2nd century BC. It was created by Agisandros, or Alexander of Antioch, and portrays Aphrodite as decisive and ready for action. The great Tintoretto, in his “Venus, Mars and Hephaestus” (16th century), portrays a moment of infidelity and how indifferent she remains at her husband’s quest to discover the truth, while at the same time her lover hides under the bed.