Praxiteles at Delphi

Aileen Ajootian

University of Mississippi

Delphi inv. no. 3951, a statue base of dark gray stone, was discovered in 1896 southeast of the Apollo Temple.  A now lost bronze statue was supported in the cuttings on top.  According to the three-line inscription, the statue was a portrait of Chairidemos, son of Antiphanos of Pitania, dedicated to Apollo by the demos Abydos (on the west coast of Asia Minor), and made by Praxiteles. The monument has long been connected with a shadowy third-century artist, Praxiteles II, possibly the famous sculptor's grandson. But a reevaluation of the old arguments for this attribution suggests that the base can actually be associated with the famous fourth-century Athenian sculptor Praxiteles. Two types of evidence, literary and epigraphical, contributed to the identification of this stone with a third-century artist. Testimonia indicate the existence of a second Praxiteles, perhaps a descendent of the well-known fourth-century figure, but the inscription points to the earlier sculptor.

Early commentators interpreted lightly inscribed punctuation marks, vertical rows of three dots, as archaizing features, designed to make the text look older. After the archaic period, they claimed, such tripuncts did not appear again until the third century B.C. But tripuncts do occur in fourth-century inscriptions on both public and private monuments; there are even some examples at Delphi. And the carefully carved letters of Delphi 3951 appear to be fourth-century in date. In fact, the punctuation marks, very lightly carved, and not assigned separate spaces of their own, like the letters, may even be a later addition to a fourth-century text. If this base can be detached from the literary evidence for a third-century Praxiteles, it then joins a group of five other statue supports bearing the "signature" of the renowned fourth-century sculptor. All of them supported portrait statues, rather than images of gods or satyrs, with which the ancient sources chiefly associated Praxiteles.  Delphi 3951 stands out among these Praxitelean monuments. All the others supported portraits dedicated by private individuals; this one is a civic dedication. Furthermore, it is the only fourth-century base inscribed with the artist's name that clearly preserves cuttings for a bronze statue.

Praxiteles' artistic presence at Delphi is attested by literary sources reporting on a gold or gilded statue of his courtesan lover Phryne, and some scholars attribute the so-called Acanthus Monument to him. Delphi 3951 now provides secure evidence for Praxiteles' work displayed at the panhellenic site and additional information concerning his eastern commissions. Abydos, a Milesian colony in Mysia with an excellent harbor, was strategically important in the fourth century B.C. By the end of the fifth century, it was minting coins with Apollo's head on the reverse. And a fourth-century proxeny decree found on the Athenian Akropolis  (Akr 1330) may bear a personified image of the demos. The city distinguished Chairidemos of Pitania with a large bronze sculpture made by Praxiteles, whose artistic character is reflected more clearly by inscribed statues bases than by the literary tradition populated with his mythological works.

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