Friday, October 31, 2008
Feet in early and classical art
In Antiquity men of the middle east found corpulent women very sexy, but the Greeks (from about 2000BC) were less enamored and praised instead a more youthful, agile, lighter and graceful body. Their classic beauty was typified by the Egyptian dancing girl with broad shoulders delicate, bud type breasts, and a straight, over slender body springing from the cups of the thighs, without bulges or protuberances like a half opened blossom. She represented a more asexual and a general ideal of human beauty which related more to the spirit than desires of the flesh.
According to Lewinsohn (1958) even in the classical period when art was aiming at grandeur and pathos, the sexual element was neutralised to vanishing point. The representation of human beings, or gods in human form were not purposefully de-sexualised although elements were there, instead the idea was not to over excite the viewer in a vulgar manner. Bearing in mind art then was not held in public galleries but by private collectors. This style came later and was compensated for in the Middle Ages when images were purposefully de-sexualised. Distinction was placed in the pleasure of certain proportions, in the rhythm and movement all of which form a small part of what would generally be termed the laws of aesthetics.
As a metaphor for femininity, the foot was invariably depicted in Grecko art as small and curved. The perfect Christian foot was curved with arches. Small and delicate yet strong enough to bare weight a true miracle of engineering. Later artists experimented by elongating the female nude. Although divergent from the dominant classical convention, these proportions represented a kind of erotic ideal.
Throughout the Middle Ages artists and sculptors painted figures which were sexually ambiguous, this was in part because the "boy like figure" was considered pure and free from sin. Most of the major works of art depicted biblical scenes or the Holy Scriptures in one form or the other. So to depict figures displaying overtly primarily and secondary sexual characteristics would, at that time, have been considered tasteless. The foot became the key to sex the models. The female foot was small and curved and the male larger but with the same characteristics. This is described in the laws of art as the aesthetics of proportion. Often for the sake of decency the naked foot had to be covered and some believe the reason why angels were sometimes depicted with long wings to hide their secondary erogenous zone, their feet from uninvited gaze.
Lewinsohn R., Mayce A (translation) 1958 A history of sexual customs London: Longmans Green