Body Beautiful - The Depicted Figure in Context

Joanne Artman Gallery
Apr 14, 2017 7:55PM
America Martin
Woman Walking
Joanne Artman Gallery

To be reminded of the incredible diversity of shapes and sizes of the human body it is only necessary to look at the different ways in which it has been represented throughout history in the arts. Across different periods, there is a vast range of ideals for what was considered to be desirable. By Western European standards, elongated torsos, waif-like silhouettes, and round, buxom bodies have all been considered beautiful at one point. While it is true that we have to consider the idea of the male gaze, as being an artist was not considered a suitable career choice for women until very recently, these representations of the human figure lend us a glimpse into the various ways in which cultural norms and other factors shaped the ways in which we appreciate the aesthetics of the human form.

Left: Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, c. 1486, (detail).

Right: Venus of Willendorf, c. 28,000 B.C.E. - 25,000 B.C.E.

Considered to be both the goddess of beauty, and hence the most beautiful woman in the world, Venus has always been a controversial figure to portray. Quite often depictions of her were based on real women as artists projected their own wants and desires into a visual manifestation. One artist well known for portraying the same woman as the goddess Venus in numerous iterations is one we have mentioned before, Botticelli. In the Birth of Venus, the figure is portrayed with a classic antique symmetry along with elongated arms, as well as a neck at an impossible angle. Her body shape is both feminine as well as masculine with large hands, slim legs and a soft stomach representative of fertility.

The iconic ancient fertility figure, the Venus of Willendorf exhibits some of the same characteristics - exaggerated mid-section and smaller hands and legs - a telling cue in the overlap of cultural beauty standards adherent to visual signs of fertility.  Quite apart from the two Venuses in both meaning and pose is America Martin’s Woman Walking which shows a figure mid-step, poised, graceful, her back raised straight and face turned forward. There is some softness here in the rounded angles of her body, but she seems to be unbreakable, a pillar in the very sense of the word. During Botticelli’s time modesty was considered one of the virtues, and so his Venus covers herself up with her long, flowing hair. Martin’s figure is free from such restrictions, and strides forward with a cropped, short cut, perfectly capturing the ethos of the modern woman - centered, determined, and moving forward.

Represented at JoAnne Artman Gallery:  511 A West 22nd St. New York NY 10011 ||  326 North Coast Hwy. Laguna Beach, CA 92651

949.510.5481 || || [email protected]

Joanne Artman Gallery