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Art Through Time: A Global View

The Body Compare: Can Art Contribute to the Formation of Bodily Ideals?

Doryphoros (Canon)

Doryphoros (Canon)
Artist / Origin: After Polykleitos of Argos (Greek, ca. 480/475–415 BCE)
Region: Europe
Date: 450–440 BCE
Period: 500 BCE – 1 CE
Material: Bronze
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions: H: approx. 84 in. (213 cm.)
Location: Munich Museum, Munich, Germany
Credit: Courtesy of the Munich Museum

Vitruvian Man

Vitruvian Man
Artist / Origin: Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452–1519)
Region: Europe
Date: 1492
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Pen and ink
Medium: Prints, Drawings, and Photography
Dimensions: H: 13 ½ in (34.3 cm.), W: 9 5/8 in. (24.5 cm.)
Location: Galleria dell’ Accademia, Venice, Italy
Credit: © The Gallery Collection/CORBIS

Can art contribute to the formation of bodily ideals?

Conceptions of bodily beauty and perfection are not universal. Rather, they are constructs of particular people at particular moments in history. Since ancient times, art has been a means of refining, codifying, and representing these ideals. Both Polykleitos’s Doryphoros and Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man offered other artists standards after which to model their own works. These works, in turn, offered audiences images by which to measure themselves.

Questions to Consider

  • Both Polykleitos and Leonardo created images based on ideal proportions. What values and beliefs undergird each artist’s proportional system?
  • These images are ideal constructs. Do you think that depictions of the human body can ever be “real”?
  • Why do you think so many cultures represent idealized bodies in their art? Think about the idealized bodies represented in your own visual culture. Might such images have the power to influence the way we look at and think about our bodies in life?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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