History Of Art


The body has been used as a sign or symbol in art for centuries. The body was
used to symbolize perfection in ancient Greece, and in Egypt, to give a precise
image for the God of the After-life. Not to mention their colossal monuments
which promote power and glory, and are used to intimidate. However contemporary
artists use the body as a symbol which conveys a whole range of different kinds
of layered meaning, although the simple symbol of power has not been lost over
the centuries. Ancient Greek sculptures of the body are a medium between man and
the gods, they are an ideal of physical perfection. The female figure of
c.650-625 B.C. (fig. 123) and a nude male youth of c.600 B.C. (fig. 124) are
perfect examples of the use of symbols to convey meaning. These statues, Kore
(maiden) and Kouros (youth) were produced in large numbers, all being virtually
the same in outline. Their general names emphasised the need for the statues to
remain unidentified and the lack of personal character. Some were placed on
graves only to be viewed as representations of the deceased in the broadest
sense (completely impersonal). And some were used as offerings, for example: for
a favoured person like the victor in an athletic competition.The strange lack of
differentiation seems to be part of the character of these figures. They are
neither gods nor men, but rather somewhere in between, a symbol of physical
perfection, an ideal shared by not only humans but also immortals, the gods.

Moreover, statues of the body in Ancient Greek art were also used to capture the
image of the gods themselves. Nine of Samothrace (fig. 181)has a dramatic impact
on the viewer. It is the image of the goddess descending upon the prow of a
ship. The beauty of the shapes that the body creates, glorifies and beautifies
the goddess. It is a symbol of the power and immortality of the gods and the
sole purpose of the artist is to convey this beauty and power to the people of

Ancient Greece. Ancient Egypt is also another place in which the body was used
as a symbol or sign. Colossal monuments such as The Great Temple of Ramesses II
at Abu Simbel was a symbol of great power and wealth, as only pharaohs were able
to create these monuments. Size was everything to the Egyptian pharaohs, it was
the primary key to emphasise and increase their power and worshipers. The
wonderful inscriptions and hieroglyphs found on temple walls were of great
importance. The use of the body in the relief work on the temple walls were used
to convey a perfect image of the deceased to the God of the After life. The
detail and intricacy of the body was to insure that they could be recreated to
perfection in their life after death. Contemporary works that use the body as a
sign or symbol, are found in abundance. Works as simple as a portrait can have a
great impact on people. Portraits such as that of Hitler, during World War, I
had enormous effects on the people of the Jewish religion. To have these huge
portraits of Hitler’s face all over the country insured his control and power
over the turn of events and the Jews. Victims by Jose Clemente Orozco is of the

Symbolist art movement. The name of this movement is indicative of the precise
purpose of the artists of that time. Orozco had a deep humanitarian sympathy
with silent suffering masses and in Victims he illustrates his powerful trait.

The bony bodies of the unidentified people in Victims is a symbol of the
problems that were afoot in the world in 1936. Vast numbers of people were
starving, suffering and dying. Orozco used the bodies in his artworks as a
symbol of this suffering and successfully draws the focus and the emotions of
the viewer. Thus, the artwork has fulfilled its primary purpose. The use of the
body in Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon by Pablo Picasso symbolizes the change of
the way we view art and the body in art. Picasso introduced Cubism to the world.

His brave abandonment of the Blue Period for a different and more robust style
is seen and conveyed through his art. When Picasso started this picture, it was
supposed to be a temptation scene in a brothel. However, he ended up with five
nudes and a still life. This artwork was Picasso’s own counterpart to

Matisse’s The Joy of Life , and the nudes in his work have a savage
aggressiveness