Sculptor Michael Binkley was commissioned to create a sculpture of two life-sized female nudes, which he completed in February, 2008. After collaborating with the patron as to the subject for the sculpture, the theme of a scene from Homer’s Iliad was chosen.
The sculpture, full of symbolism, depicts Aphrodite and Helen of Troy, after the judgement of Paris and the viewer takes the place of Paris. This is a visual depiction of the start of the Trojan War.
At the wedding of Thetis, there was a beauty contest amongst the goddesses and the prize was a golden apple. The competition came down to Hera and her two daughters, Athena and Aphrodite. Zeus commanded that the judge of the contest be Paris, a mortal shepherd on Mount Ida.
Unbeknownst to all, Paris was actually a Trojan warrior in disguise. He was a very handsome man, and the son of Priam, the King of Troy. Each goddess tried to bribe Paris to win his vote, but it was Aphrodite’s incentive that moved Paris the most. She promised him the hand in marriage to the most beautiful mortal woman – Helen. After receiving the golden apple, Aphrodite presented Helen to Paris.
This was the start of the Trojan War.
Paris and Helen fell in love and after revealing his identity, he took her to Troy. However, Helen was already married to King Menelaus of Sparta, and upon returning from a battle campaign to find his wife taken, he was understandably upset! He enlisted the aid of his brother, King Agamemnon to raise an army to go to Troy to retrieve Helen. A massive army, led by the Greek hero Achilles, boarded 1,000 ships to set sail across the Aegean Sea to Troy. Unfortunately, Apollo thwarted the effort by stilling the winds for a month. Finally, Zeus intervened, allowing the mortals’ destiny to unfold and the winds came up to carry the ships to their destination. The Trojan War lasted ten years before Helen was finally returned to Greece.
The sculpture is not about the nude, but the story told in the gesture of four hands.
The viewer assumes the place of Paris. Aphrodite has the golden apple in her right hand. Her subtle smile reveals she is pleased with her contest win, and nudges Helen forward with her left hand. Helen is a little defiant as her chin is set and her right hand clenches the drapery. She is moving forward, her body leaning towards the viewer. The wind that will carry the Greek ships to Troy blows strong through her hair and her left hand echoes the shape of her tresses.
The dichotomy between the tension and the ease of her hands illustrates the moral conflict Helen faces. On the one hand, she knows she is married and her clenched right hand reveals her not wanting to leave. On the other hand, she is falling in love with the handsome Paris and her open left hand shows she is willing let go of her current marriage.
The wind does not catch Aphrodite’s hair as much, suggesting that the gust is directed only at Helen. The drapery between them is buffeted behind. Stone ankles cannot support the body as real flesh and bone, so sculptors through the ages have used props as supports. Most classical figurative sculpture includes a tree trunk behind one leg, but Binkley has used drapery instead. The flowing lines are better suited for his composition and style.
Binkley gave the surfaces of the figures a silky smooth matte finish that is wonderful to the touch. It emulates soft skin and gives the white marble the ability to successfully hold shadow that is so important to sculpture. He contrasted this with the fine file finish of the women’s hair and that of the drapery. Most of the composition is considered “closed,” as the viewer’s eye is taken around the sculpture and circles back. This is accomplished through the careful positioning of the nude’s limbs, heads and hair – except for Helen’s hair and left hand. These are open and lead the eye away. While there is much to observe and digest when looking at this sculpture, Binkley’s knowledge of anatomy and how he executes the female nude in a sensitive fashion is abundantly evident.
Binkley personally chose the block of bianco marble while in Pietrasanta, Italy. This was an important factor for the patron. Bianco marble is quarried in the mountains above the famous town of Carrara, Italy and is considered among one of the finest varieties of sculpture marble in the world.
The patron was very pleased with the sculpture and it graces his private office, as a powerful image near the entrance.