The Body

The human body is not only the object we know the most about (we each live with one every day of our lives), but also the object in which we have the most interest. We are no different than the English tourists in Zoffany's painting of the Tribuna who display more interest in the “artfully” exposed bodies than in the exotic curiosities lining the walls and covering the floor of the gallery. Therefore, in the third part of this course, we will focus on the history of bodily exposure in art.

Artists have represented the human body with disegno esterno (naturalistic in all of its details) or with disegno interno (abstract or symbolic of the artist's personal feelings and emotions). In the former, an artist can have a model pose in front of him in the studio in order to observe each hill and valley, each hair follicle, wart, mole, wrinkle or discoloration of the skin. In the latter, artists can use the imagination to conjure up their ideal vision of humanity with perfect skin, long golden hair, perfect muscles, and long legs. There is a story of the artist Zeuxis from the Late Classical period of Greece. He was asked to paint an image of Helen of Troy, the woman whose face sparked the Trojan War and launched a thousand ships. In order to find inspiration, the artist sponsored a beauty contest for the most beautiful maidens of Greece. As he went down the line, observing each woman's features, he lamented that not a single woman could serve as his model. While one may have had perfect hips and legs, her face may have been average. While another may have had a perfect face, she may have been overweight. So, he decided to pick and choose features from each in order to fashion his ideal woman.