" Thanks to the excellence of his talent, Praxiteles is unknown to no man, however uncultivated…" Marcus Terentius Varro's words, written in the 1st century BC, are ample proof of the Athenian sculptor's undimmed reputation some 300 years after his own lifetime (the 4th century BC). Praxiteles's renown has spread and been further enhanced over the intervening centuries, to the present day. Ancient writers such as Pausanias, Pliny the Elder, and Lucian of Samosata describe his works with high praise, but they give little information about his origins, or what we might nowadays term his "career."

Praxiteles was born around 400 BC and trained in the workshop of the sculptor Kephisodotos (possibly his father). He died shortly before 326 BC, when his name disappears from the official registers. His family was one of the wealthiest in Athens, with a fortune doubtless based on other sources of income besides his talent as a sculptor.

Praxiteles's fame has continued down the centuries: he was idolized in Ancient Rome, and since Renaissance times more or less scholarly or fantastical attributions have attempted to reconstruct his œuvre. In the 19th century, Winckelmann pioneered a more scientific, archaeological approach – albeit glossed with speculation regarding Praxiteles's relationship with the courtesan Phryne, the model for the Aphrodite of Cnidus. This archaeological approach is the basis for ongoing research today.

Most of the literary sources describing Praxiteles's works have been known – and significantly over-interpreted – since Renaissance times. The archaeological approach favored from Renaissance times to the 19th century took these writings as the starting-point for an examination of the surviving figurative evidence. Intaglios and coins reproduce images of the master's works, and when correlated with the ancient texts, these have helped identify existing replicas and pastiches. As the exhibition demonstrates, however, this type of approach has its limits.

The exhibition's curators have tackled a formidable challenge: to bring to life a Greek sculptor born 2,400 years ago, and above all to immerse visitors in the history of archaeology and Greek sculpture, involving them in the expert debate, suppositions, doubts, interpretations and controversies surrounding Praxiteles's work today.