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Beauty has a History
David – Michelangelo, 1501-1504
Part 1 - Pure Beauty
the rhetoric body appears in the theatre of beauty.
But what is beauty?
Beauty has a bearing on everything that surrounds us,
both pure nature and that what is made by man.
The experience of beauty
is of all times and places.
However, this experience,
and the determination of beauty
has a cultural history.
People of Israel and Juda,
you have betrayed me, completely.
the lord, have spoken.
Venus de Milo - Alexandros of Antioch, 130-100 BC
We often associate beauty with Greek art,
with sculptures of perfect bodies
wherein the classical ideal of beauty
is realized in pure marble.
Initially, in Greek art the concept of beauty
did not play a prominent role.
Plastic artists were inspired by Egyptian art,
with its sacred, yet rigid rules.
Tut Anch Amon and his wife, 1550 BC
Lady of Auxerre, made in Crete? 650-625 BC
Cast of the sculpture,
with putative colour reconstructed.
The Egyptian inspiration in Greek art
can be seen in the ‘kouroi’, or young men,
dated to about 580 BC.
Division and stiffness of the bodies correspond
with the rules of Egyptian art.
However, these rules are broken
in the representation of the knees.
For the knees are sculptured
according to mere observation,
and not according to prescriptive rules.
Charioteer, bronze, ca. 470 BC – sculptor unknown
Since five hundred years BC,
the liberation from the corset of the Egyptian rules
promoted the development of a concept of beauty.
Beauty became connected to the rhythm in rhetoric,
the harmonic order of the cosmos,
the enchantment of poetry,
and the accurate proportions in plastic arts.
By means of this discus-thrower,
the sculptor Myron attempted, in 450 BC,
to capture body movement.
On account of this sculpture
one has tried to determine how in Greek times
the throwing of a discus was performed.
However, the realism of this sculpture
appeared not to be found
in the mimicry of a sportsman,
but in the beauty of the body.
Hereby, the accurate proportions
and the stance of the body are decisive.
Among others, the position of the head
makes the discus-thrower a body-in-movement.
Discus Thrower (Diskobolos) - Myron ca. 450 BC (Roman copy)
Hermes and the Infant Dionysos - Praxiteles ca. 340 BC (Roman copy)
Greek sculptors strived to embody
beauty in a credible way.
They were seeking for a balance
between the regulation of the depiction
and the realism of the beautiful body.
Apollo Belvédère – after a bronze of Leochares 350-325 BC (Roman copy)
One of the their rules
was the avoidance of an excess of details.
Simplicity has to be taken care of,
not in a severe way, but serene.
The sculpture of the Laocoön group
- dated the first century BC -
broke with this rule:
it is dynamic and dramatic,
full of pathos.
Laocoön and his Sons - Agesander, Athenedoros and Polydorus, 160-20 BC
Philosophers want to delimit the essence of beauty.
According to Socrates one can only speak of beauty
when the goodness of the inner self
demonstrates itself in the outward appearance.
Beauty seems - as it were -
to shine through the body,
also through a so-called ‘ugly body’.
On the surface,
Socrates may have been an ugly man,
but his internal beauty
was perceptible in his outward appearance.
Socrates (469 – 399 BC)
Warriors, from the sea off Riace, Italy ca. 460-450 BC, sculptor unknown
Beauty resides in the harmony
between a handsome body and a good spirit.
The eyes are the mirrors of the soul,
for this reason Praxiteles
painted the eyes of his sculptures.
Athena of the Temple of Aphaia, ca. 500 BC
It’s a misunderstanding to think
that the ancient Greek sculptures
were exhibited as bright, white marble objects.
Temples and sculptures
were all painted with variegated, vivid colors.
Trojan archer (“Paris”), in the back the original Temple of Aphaia, ca. 500 BC
Plato uncouples the concept of beauty
from the individual, human body.
Beauty becomes an abstract notion,
he speaks of the 'idea' of beauty.
Plato (427 – 347 BC)
According to Plato,
one has to go into the beauty
of the pure, geometrical shapes.
These shapes are based on
the perfect harmonic order of the cosmos.
Plato’s filosophy had a great influence
on the concept of beauty,
in which good proportions, harmony, and soberness
are essential.
A long time his thoughts have determined
the experiencing of beauty.
Rhombicuboctahedron designed by Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1500
Leonardo da Vinci, self-portrait 1512-1515
Remains of the temple of Apollo, Delphi, Greece
Delphi is the sanctuary of Apollo.
On his temple were inscriptions
refering to the Apolonian beauty concept.
Apollo is the God of order and harmony.
This order and harmony
delimit the border between beauty and chaos.
In fact, one of the inscriptions on the temple
runs as follows:
'Take care of the border!'
Reconstruction of the temple of Apollo
Dionysus (500-490 BC)
Apollo opposes Dionysos,
the god of the intoxication, the disorder,
the unbridledness and the excess.
Dionysian mysteries, 1st cent. BC
Therefore, another well-known inscription
on Apollo’s temple was:
“Nothing in excess” (meden agan).
Apollo Sauroktonos – Praxiteles ca. 340 BC (Roman copy, 1st–2nd cent. AD)
Features of Apollonian beauty
1. Correct proportions, harmony, order, and soberness.
2. Appeals to vision, and not to the other senses.
3. Requires distance, no nearness, no contact.
4. Appeals to intellect.
Apoxyomenos - Lysippos, ca. 330 BC
Apoxyomenos - Lysippos, ca. 330 BC Doryphoros - Polykleitos, ca. 440 BC.
Numeral proportions regulate
the beauty of the perfect body.
However, there is no agreement
on the exact values of those proportions.
On the left we see that Lysippos
divides the body in eight parts.
On the right we see the partition of Polykleitos,
he divides the body in seven parts.
The sculptures of Polykleitos went into history
as examples of the perfect proportions
of the beautiful, human body.
Doryphoros & Diadumenos - sculptor: Polykleitos (5th cent BC)
In the first century BC, however,
the Roman Vitruvius deviates from this conception
of the perfect body.
For Vitruvius the number four
is the representative unit.
The width of the beautiful human body,
with streched arms,
concurs with the body height:
in full, one can speak of a square.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) - Edvard Munch, 1906
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is of opinion
that the Apollonian beauty concept has superseded
the Dionysian point of view.
The Dyonisian beauty is dangerous,
this beauty concept unsettles and disrupts.
It is in modern times that this Dionysian approach
will take revenge
by means of the experience of the sublime.
For this retaliation to take place,
a couple of centuries has to go by.
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History of Art 1/3 - Pure Beauty

2579 Folder Collection
Citi Wing published on March 29, 2015
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