Jean-Léon Gérôme: Phryne Revealed Before the Areopagus (1861)


(Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany)

A painting by the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 – 1904). Phryne (born in 371 B.C. as Mnēsarétē, Phryne was a nickname of her) was a courtesan from ancient Greece. Famous for her beauty she is best known for her trial. According to several Greek authors Phryne was accused of impiety and when the trial seemed to be going the wrong way for Phryne her defender Hypereides, removed Phryne's robe so she stood naked before her judges. The judges were instilled with a superstitious fear by the beauty of Phryne and claimed that Phryne was 'a prophetess and priestess of Aphrodite' (female beauty was seen as a divine gift). Because of this the judges couldn't condemn her and decided to acquit her out of pity. A later Greek poet claimed that the removal of the robe story was made up and stated that Phryne simply pleaded successfully for her life (this is most likely the real story). Painting from 1861.

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