Standards and Perceptions of Male Bearty Throughout History

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Throughout history there have been many changes in the standards and perceptions of male beauty in Western culture. The portrayal of the male form throughout time, in art and sculpture, reflects the culture’s morals, values, and beliefs, among other things. In paintings and sculptures, artists depict the qualities in men that are important to the time period of their works. Perceptions of male beauty and their image can also represent a person’s social status in society, such as being noble, rich, or both. The male themes seen throughout art include heroes, the supernatural, biblical figures, and idealized bodies, to name a few. Some of the time periods that illustrate the importance of male beauty and image are the Baroque period, Neoclassical, Romanticism, Realism, the 20th century, and the present. The Baroque era began in Europe during the 17th century and was a time of religious conflict. This style in art was modified by different cultures in Europe to express the ideals and beliefs of each culture. Three styles emerged that became known as Florid Baroque, Classic Baroque, and Restrained Baroque. Florid Baroque was based on Roman Catholic religious principles and beliefs, classic Baroque was chivalrous and aristocratic, and restrained Baroque was a simple style that depicted Protestant values. As with the three styles of Baroque, the male image varied slightly through each one but they all had a religious basis. Artists of this time also used different methods to reflect this. “Although religious painting, history painting, allegories, and portraits were still considered the most noble subjects, landscapes, still-life, and genre scenes were painted by such artists as Claude Lorrain, Jacob van Ruisdael, Willem Kalf, and Jan Vermeer” (Bartleby). One work from Baroque period to analyze is The Conversion of St. Paul (1600-1601) by Caravaggio. As can be seen in this painting, Caravaggio used light and shadow to show off his subjects (Katya Gifford). This religious painting resembles the spiritual nature of saints during this time and resembles the male acceptance of Jesus. It can also be noted that men in Baroque art were not portrayed in a traditional way as Caravaggio frequently chose his subjects right off the street (Neal McLaughlin). As Baroque art was associated with the Catholic Counter-Reformation (Buffalo.edu), the male image in Baroque art was meant to restore faith in the Catholic Church, such as how Paul was depicted in this painting embracing the light that resembles Jesus. As this painting represents St. Paul becoming the interpreter of Jesus, it illustrates the importance of men as biblical and mythical figures in this time. The next time period to analyze the male image is the Neoclassical period. The Neoclassical style in art flourished in Europe and North America from about 1750 to the early 1800’s… (arthistory). A number of things helped prompt this interest: archaeological excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum; a number of books (with engravings) by travelers to Greece; and by the influence of Winkelman (the first art historian) who said the main qualities of Greek art were ‘noble simplicity and quiet grandeur’ (Bluffton.edu). The Neoclassic style resulted out of The Age of Reason and had many characteristics of Enlightenment thinking. This style further developed classical humanistic ideals and put emphasis on balance, simplicity, and restraint. The male image portrayed in Neoclassical art depicts the ideal body image of classic Greek art. Such characteristics of the ideal Greek male depicted in art are “the slim but well-muscled torso, the elegant symmetry of form, [and] the balanced turn of the head” (Simon Goldhill). One preeminent painter of this movement was Jacques-Louis David with the painting The Oath of the Horatii, produced in 1784. This is a classical style painting portraying the Horatii brothers swearing an oath in which they agree to fight against the Curatii to win the right to...
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