He dared to bare Aphrodite, becoming one of antiquity's most popular sculptors and influencing art through the centuries but precious little of Praxiteles' work has survived.
An Athens exhibition now offers a rare glimpse into the 4th century BC artist's work, gathering the few originals and scores of Roman copies from museums around Greece and the world, along with historical testaments of his time.
"He is the first to create Aphrodite completely naked," said Nikolaos Kaltsas, the curator of the exhibition at the Athens Archaeological Museum. "He was groundbreaking in many ways, in how he posed his subjects, the look on their faces."
The show's luminous marble sculptures of relaxed gods and goddesses are surrounded by walls inscribed with quotes from the historian Pausanias discussing Praxiteles's works.
The sculptor, believed to have lived between about 400 BC and 325 BC, is credited for adding nymphs and satyrs to the sculptural pantheon of Olympian gods favored at the time.
Although very productive, few of his works survive, and some marble fragments at the show bear the marks of the anger of early Christians, bent on destroying the symbols of pagan religions.
Coins minted by ancient Greek cities boast images of some of Praxiteles' most famous sculptures, such as Hermes and the infant Dionysos and the Knidian Aphrodite.
Tradition has it that in the 1st century BC, king Nicodemos offered to pay off the Knidians' huge city debt in exchange for this statue, showing the goddess of love disrobing before her bath, but the citizens refused.
Modeled after his supposed mistress, the courtesan Phryne who famously escaped a profanity conviction by baring her torso in court, the statue has been copied widely in antiquity and influenced artists as late as the Renaissance.
"The reach of his work is attested by the countless Hellenistic and Roman copies of his work, as well as his influence on Renaissance and modern times," Greek Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said while inaugurating the exhibition on Wednesday.
The show, which runs till October 31, is the Greek version of a similar exhibit hosted earlier this year at the Louvre and gathers works and copies from museums such as the British Museum in London and the Vatican.
But the Athens show also includes works by Praxiteles' father and two sons, believed to have been celebrated sculptors in their own right.
"We saw it as a family tradition spanning nearly a century and a half," Kaltsas said.