Since these ancient times the human body has intrigued artists. The bone and muscle structure, the different positions that a body can take as well as curiosities and anomalies were all scrutinised by artists in sketches and studies. But despite the art's curiosity towards a realistic, almost documental depiction of the body, it did, from time to time, act as a vintage version of Photoshop, “creatively” tweaking the image here and there to fit with the particular (cultural, temporal) beauty standards or painting styles. Hence the famous story of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, who, as history tells us, looked nothing like Hans Holbein the Younger's portrait of her that Henry commissioned. The King, obviously, was very disappointed and the marriage annulled... Another example is a recent case of discovery of a 16th century portrait of Isabella de Cosimo I de Medici of Florence under a Victorian-era over-painting. These two works show how not only the difference in depictions, but also change in painting styles and techniques. But even cases like this seem quite innocent compared to the vast number of people affected by the idea of today's "beauty standards” and “body image". The all-pervasive internet, social media and advertising seem a perfect vehicle to distribute the idea of "beauty" among girls, boys, women and men alike. Is this a new phenomenon? Scale-wise yes, but in practice – definitely not. Trends were always around, inspiring artists and non-artists alike. What unites all these instances, though, is the idea of temporality. What we see or consider beautiful is relative: one today and different tomorrow. What artists do, though, is look at beauty, or its opposite, and eternalize it. And you know it is truly timeless when you are struck speechless by it.
Opening Image: William Blake Richmond, Venus and Anchises, 1889-1890.