Apelles' painting was executed for the temple of Asclepius at Kos, from which it was taken to Rome by Augustus in part payment of tribute, and set up in the Temple of Caesar. In the time of Nero, owing to its dilapidated condition, it was replaced by a copy made by the painter Dorotheus. Pliny, listing Apelles' best paintings, noted "[Another of] Venus emerging from the sea, dedicated by the late Augustus of blessed memory in the shrine of Caesar his [adoptive-]father, which is called "The Anadyomene", praised in Greek verses like other works, conquered by time but undimmed in fame."
The Aphrodite of Knidos was commissioned as the cult statue for the Temple of Aphrodite at Knidos. It depicted the goddess Aphrodite as she prepared for the ritual bath that restored her purity, discarding her drapery with one hand, while modestly shielding herself with the other. The placement of her hands obscures her pubic area, while simultaneously drawing attention to her exposed upper body. The statue is famed for its beauty, and is designed to be appreciated from every angle.
Because the various copies show different body shapes, poses and accessories, the original can only be described in general terms; the body bending in a contrapposto position, an artistic innovation of Greek art which realistically portrays normal human stance, with the head probably turned to the left. Lucian said that she "wore a slight smile that just revealed her teeth", although most later copies do not preserve this.
The female nude appeared nearly three centuries after the earliest nude male counterparts in Greek sculpture, the kouros; the female kore figures were clothed. The Aphrodite of Knidos established a canon for the proportions of the female nude, and inspired many copies to follow its lead, the best of which is considered to be the Colonna Knidia, which is in the Vatican's Pio-Clementine Museum. A Roman copy, it is not thought to match the polished beauty of the original, which was destroyed in a disastrous fire at Constantinople in AD 475. According to an account by Pliny the Elder, Praxiteles sculpted both a nude statue and a draped statue of Aphrodite. The city of Kos purchased the draped statue, because they felt the nude version was indecent and reflected poorly on their city, while the city of Knidos purchased the nude statue. Pliny claims that the statue brought fame to Knidos. Coins issued in Knidos depicting the statue seem to confirm this claim.
Engraving of a coin from Knidos showing the Aphrodite of Cnidus, by Praxiteles
Praxiteles was alleged to have used the courtesan Phryne as a model for the statue, which added to the gossip surrounding its origin. The statue became so widely known and copied that in a humorous anecdote the goddess Aphrodite herself came to Knidos to see it.
The statue became a tourist attraction in spite of being a cult image.