"The statue entitled "Toad" is a rendition of "Phryne", a celebrated "Hetera" or courtesan. She achieved fame and possible idolatry in her era, akin to a film star or entertainer in contemporary times. Phryne lived in Athens in the fourth century B.C, and her birth name was Mnesarete, though owing to a yellowish complexion, she was nicknamed "Phryne", which translates as "toad". The work depicts a notorious incident in which Phryne disrobed before the Areopagus, the Athenian court of justice. The ancient account relates, that, realising the verdict was going against her, she revealed her nude body to the court. According to classical conventions, a beautiful body was the manifest of a beautiful soul, a mark of divine providence, and consequently Phryne won an acquittal.
In ancient Greece, prostitution was a legal enterprise, and Phryne, as a heteara was at the top rung of the sexual trade, enjoying the status of a geisha, in modern terms. Successful hetera were independent, educated, wealthy, and experienced a greater freedom and influence than the majority of women in their society. Extant accounts of courtesans and prostitutes provide historians with some of the best sources on gender relations and women's roles in ancient Greece.
Some historical texts recount that Phryne was a lover of Praxiteles, the most renowned Attic sculptor of the 4th century B.C. Accounts relate that, Phryne inspired and was the model for the Aphrodite of Knidos., which according to legend, was the first life size nude representation of Aphrodite, the Goddess of love. Praxiteles, also produced another statue, which was a "portrait" of Phryne herself, and the gilded bronze was said to have been consecrated in the temple of Delphi. The two statues have not survived, and in fact no attributable sculptures by Praxiteles own hand are extant, though there are numerous ancient copies of his most admired statue types, such as the Aphrodite.
In classical iconography, representations of Aphrodite and women were non-explicit in genital detail, and this anomaly contrasted with the deliberate and objective depiction of male anatomy. Although generally understated, the male sexual organ was always fully described, but anatomical accuracy was wavered when applied to nude female statues. In a predominately patriarchal culture, the conventions of art representation were set by men, and the genital depletion observed in female statuary implies an apparent consternation in a male dominated society. Whether the depiction of female genitals was seen as immodest, sexually aggressive , or in some way not aesthetic remains unknown.
"Toad" alludes to an important component in figurative art representation, exemplified by the dynamic between an artist and a muse. The supposed relation of Praxiteles with the beautiful, Thespian courtesan, and his homage to her, by sculpting an "un-commissioned" statue, describes a personal and romanticised aspect of creative art. The lost statue of Phryne is an enigma, and whether the sculptor, Praxitiles felt liberated enough to break with convention, and represent a complete woman can only be speculated on. Arguably a representation of Aphrodite as the goddess of sexual love or Phryne as a sexual escort would augur an objective depiction of gender, and empowerment of womanhood.
Phryne 2009 A.Lendzion