This process is historical, that is, the way man has represented himself throughout time has been changing according to the vision he had of himself and of the world that surrounded him, thus showing us that the artists in pre-History, in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque period, the Romanticism and in the 20th and 21st centuries represent the Human Figure in different ways. The representation of the Human Figure in pre-History is probably related to the belief of a magical nature of the actual object that would act on whoever possessed it. In this way, the artist of pre-History, from the direct observation of reality, grants himself the freedom to deform some forms, in order to give them meanings. For example, the intentional exaggeration of the breasts and buttocks of Willendorf’s Venus is probably related to the cult of fecundity (Fig.1).
In Ancient Egypt, the conventional representation of the Human Figure, in both men and women perfectly hieratic, embellished in attributes, respecting the law of frontality and the differentiator chromatism of both sexes, seems to translate the immutability of the empire that produced them, that is why, their images demonstrate an imperturbable calmness throughout time.
In Ancient Greece, on the other hand, the representation of the Human Figure reaches it true peak, given that the Greek artists were the first to succeed in representing the Human Figure as it was perceived by sight. And to achieve this, they turned to perspective, to foreshortening techniques and to a deep understanding of the human anatomy – that they observed at rest and in movement in the Gymnasia and in the Olympic Games – becoming experts in the representation of nudity (Niobe is the first female nudity in History), and of psychology, hence having been the first to represent all the emotions of drama that is human existence. However, the search for perfection, harmony and proportionality – translated in the “canon” (the rule), conditions a certain realism of Greek art by the need of the representation of perfect archetypes, to finally achieve the beautiful ideal. In the period currently considered the Classical Antiquity, we can also highlight the contribution of the Roman civilization artists in the portrait area and their huge capacity to reproduce with total accuracy the physiognomic and psychological features of children, men, women and old people.
During one of the longest periods of Western Cultural History – The Middle Ages – the representation of the Human Figure starts to move away again from the form as it was visually perceived, thus gaining a great expressivity. With the purpose to enhance the symbolic intentions of the Christian tradition, the Human Figure begins to be presented frontally, hieratic and with rigid gestures, even having anatomical errors simply to adapt it to the space that it was intended for. Nudity is rarely dealt with, but when it is, generally it refers to elongated bodies and to poorly marked bone structures, as is seen in the sculpture called “Adam and Eve” by Canto da Maia (Fig. 2).
In the Renaissance, the representation of the Human Figure gained a new breath. The research about this topic, that took place in this period and extended until the 19th century, can be understood as the search for the secret of the old or the attempt to discover the canon that the Old were thought to have used and that would be a kind of magical recipe that when duly applied, would result in the creation of perfect bodies. In this way, the representation of the Human Figure, following the classical inheritance, demonstrated various levels of visual fidelity, not only in the physical and anatomical aspects but also in the expression of feelings and emotions, thus recovering the genres of nudity and the portrait. The reference was Man while “measure of all things”, as was immortalized by Leonardo da Vinci.
The representation of the Human Figure, during the Baroque period, continues the Renaissance achievements, but giving it a more theatrical appearance, that is, choosing to make the proportions slimmer, by the serpentinata style which gives them more dynamism, by exploring expressions of more exaggerated forms, and by capturing the characters “in action” like a kind of snapshot photography.
In the 19th century, the achievements in Painting and in Sculpture did not walk hand in hand, but at the level of the representation of the Human Figure. What is common in both plastic arts is that the expression of the individual feeling is favoured. Symptoms of time and exasperated facets of the human being were for the first time represented in a truly exemplary way.
In the 20th century, one can consider Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as the moment of rupture in the way the human figure is represented before and after this painting. The total deconstruction or the construction of the bodies seen as geometrical figures, the rude and dry style obtained by the priority given to the straight line on the curved line, and the shaping of the Human figure in abrupt geometric volumes, opened the doors to total freedom given the previous canons and even given to the possibility of many future representations.