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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Phryne before the Areopagus” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

"Phryne before the Areopagus" by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Phryne before the Areopagus” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Phryne before the Areopagus” by Jean-Léon Gérôme depicts Phryne, a legendary courtesan in ancient Greece who was put on trial for impiety. The speech from the prosecutor seemed to be successfully influencing the verdict to an unfavourable outcome for Phryne. So as a last resort, her defender, the famous orator Hypereides, removed Phryne’s robes to bare her breasts and beauty before the judges to arouse their pity and turn the tide of opinion.

Phryne’s beauty caused the judges, to adopt a superstitious fear, that they could not bring themselves to condemn “a prophetess and priestess of Aphrodite” to death. They decided to acquit her out of pity and fear of retribution from the god’s that gave Phryne her beauty. The trial of Phryne has inspired many works of art.

Phryne was born about 371 BC in Boeotia but lived in Athens. There are many anecdotes about her, and she was highly praised for her beauty and achieved wealth. It was written that on the occasion of specific religious festivals, she would let down her hair and step naked into the sea. Supposedly the sculptor Praxiteles, who was her lover, used her as the model for the statue of the Aphrodite of Knidos, the first nude statue of a woman from ancient Greece.

Jean-Léon Gérôme

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904) was a French painter and sculptor, and his body of work includes historical paintings, Greek Mythology, Orientalism and portraits in the academic painting tradition.

Academic Art

Academic art is a style of painting, sculpture, and architecture produced under the influence of European academies of art. Academies using the French model formed throughout Europe, and imitated the teachings and styles of the French Académie. From England, with the Royal Academy to Denmark with its Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts which was founded in 1754, European society was saturated with academic art by the end of the 19th century.

Reflections

  • What is the moral of this story?
  • What part of this story inspired Gérôme?
  • Was she the inspiration for the first nude statue of a woman in ancient Greece.
  • Why did the Ancient Greeks glory and fear beauty?

Phryne before the Areopagus

  • Title:                  Phryne before the Areopagus
  • French:              Phryne devant l’Areopage
  • Artist:                Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Year:                 1861
  • Type:                 Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:      80.5 cm × 128 cm (31.7 in × 50 in)
  • Museum:           Kunsthalle Hamburg

Jean-Léon Gérôme

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“Every artist was first an amateur.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Photo Credit: 1) Jean-Léon Gérôme [Public domain]

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