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The image of the human body in the history of art

Visual perception of the surrounding world is undoubtedly the most important thing in a person’s life, because more than eighty percent of the information a person perceives through visual receptors.

People recognize the world through images and, to a lesser extent, through sounds, touch, smell, and taste.

Since ancient times, people have tried to display the world around them, and the most frequently repeated and most interesting object of the image is the human body.

It is amazing how attractive it is, and what a myriad of the most unusual images found in the history of art from primitive times to our time.

Without a doubt, it is an inexhaustible source of inspiration and a constant object of interest in painting, sculpture, photography and television.

Although the human body itself has remained virtually unchanged for many centuries, images are often not an exact copy of a person.

Ideas about beauty and the ideal have constantly been transformed and in each era people perceive themselves differently. Often this is just an image that resembles a person – a kind of imaginary representation of the human body.

And this is not surprising, because our world is just a world of illusions built by a creative person into reality. But in every time and age, there is a special key to understanding why people present themselves in this way.
Looking at ancient female figurines of primitive art, you can’t help noticing that some body details are either intentionally missing or significantly understated, and other details are grotesquely exaggerated.

Unwittingly, this suggests the idea of what was valued in primitive society. Harsh living conditions and the need for survival of the species pushed to associate the voluminous female body with the ideal of abundance and beauty, which will allow you to continue your family.

The Egyptian state is one of the oldest, and this civilization has left behind the most original and strictly canonical art.

Having arisen more than seven thousand years ago, it has existed in an unchanged form for almost five millennia. The strict geometricality of the figures, which have always been the same height and body type, hides the main mystery – why are all the images so uniform?

Moving to another stage of development of society, humanity has lost the value of a plump body and large fat reserves. In ancient Egyptian society, there was a strict hierarchy, people worshipped the gods, believed in the afterlife, and considered the Pharaoh the embodiment of the God RA on earth.

The Pharaoh was supposed to be like the gods and any inconsistencies with this image were carefully hidden. The appearance of the rulers was given the same features not only in images, but in life.

Society did not want to change and sought to remain the same, so in the clear geometric alignment of the figures of this formalized art, there is an exaggeration of the society’s aspirations to remain as it is at the moment and not change, thereby creating eternity on earth.

The culture of Ancient Greece that emerged a little later adopted a lot from the Egyptians, and many of the sculptures at first resembled something Egyptian.

But the desire to depict the human body in the most realistic way encouraged sculptors to look for new technologies. In this civilization, the cult of the body reigned, raising both the external and internal beauty of man to the absolute. The physical beauty of thought and beauty of soul.

The Greeks were sure that the Olympian gods, descending to earth, take the form of a beautiful man, woman or animal, and the more beautiful the body was, the closer a person felt to God.

Experimenting with images, the ancient Greeks achieved unprecedented success and achieved maximum realism in sculpture.

Thus, in the sculpture of the boy Critias, all parts of the body – the head, eyes, nose, ears, mouth, torso, legs and arms-looked like living things. It seems that this is not cold marble, but a living skin, under which there are muscles and blood pulsates through the veins.

But having achieved such an accurate, realistic image of reality, the sculptors encountered a strange effect.

The excessive realism of the boy’s figure does not arouse much interest among the tribesmen, and the feelings they feel when looking at this sculpture are more like disappointment and irritation than admiration.

Having grasped this truth, the ancient Greek masters began to look for other forms of expression and realized that the viewer needs an image that includes his imagination, which helps to think out, draw significant features for themselves and mentally add fascinating details.

The peculiarity of the human psyche is that it tends to exaggerate the characteristics that are important to it. And, of course, in each era, these characteristics are different.

The next step that ancient Greek sculptors took was to present the body not in static, but in motion.

The realism of the figures they created is visible only at a distance, but when viewed closely, some elements are exaggerated or understated, which is impossible for a living person.

Often the legs of statues are elongated, and in athletes, to emphasize the strength of the back muscles, the spine line is strongly highlighted. In this way, the ancient masters were able to create a more human image of man than previous and future civilizations, and a more human image than man himself.

From the cult of the beautiful human body, the pendulum of history swung in the direction of asceticism, contempt for the physical, denial of physical needs and pleasures.

Christianity in the middle Ages encouraged voluntary suffering, restrictions in food, which meant the acquisition of spiritual enlightenment through the humility of the flesh.

The proportions of the body, not to mention the nakedness, were considered unworthy of interest, and attention was paid exclusively to the face as an image of the disembodied soul, and the body itself had very generalized forms and was covered with clothes.

In art, various gospel stories are used, the images themselves are flat, linear, and space was understood irrationally. Another important feature of the art of that century was symbolism, which was developed in accordance with the Christian canons.

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In the Renaissance, the physical beauty of a person becomes important again. Artists and sculptors have paid much attention to the study of body proportions and one such example is the image of a Vitruvian man.

But attention was paid not only to the physical aspect — the Revival was interested in the person as a whole. The subjects of the paintings were drawn simultaneously from ancient myths and legends, and biblical tales.

Images of ancient gods, apostles, Christ, the Lord, the virgin Mary, and the common man were identical in style. The characters in the paintings also had distinct individual traits and were endowed with human motivation for actions.

Highly anthropocentric and humanistic art has reached incredible heights in the image of the human body, its plasticity, movements and emotions, embodying it in a complex three-dimensional space and multi-dimensional scenes.

The seventeenth century was marked by the development of scientific thought, the rejection of religious worldview and the practical application of scientific achievements for the benefit of mankind. From this point on, art no longer had a dominant image of the world and the human body.

In the age of Enlightenment, there were two styles at once — Baroque and classicism – and later new directions appeared.

The image of a person is understood either in an incredibly realistic image, when every detail is important and everything conveys not only the physical appearance, but also the spiritual essence, or in ceremonial portraits, when the charm of soft velvet, airy silk, mysterious shimmer of pearls and fluffy fur, a person appears without his emotions, feelings and aspirations as a character of his era.

Artists are in search of various techniques, means of image and transfer of colors, depict not only those in power, but also the middle class, peasants, shepherds, jesters and circus performers.

Economic crises, low living standards lead to the emergence of genres, when a person is surrounded by Paradise nature, luxury and he is careless, thoughtless and incredibly joyful. The era of Romanticism brings images of fearless, strong-willed and courageous people who draw their wild strength from the bosom of nature.

In the art of the twentieth century, the classical traditions of realistic representation continue, glorifying the unity of the spiritual and physical, but art is looking for new forms-abstract ones – to Express the deep inner world of a person, rejecting the physical embodiment.

Each particular epoch tries to find its own artistic forms, means and color palette that are appropriate to the spirit of the time in order to reflect the value-based ideas about the human body at that time.

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