Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Foot in Art

Feet are often ascribed with the tell-tale marks of identity and origin. This may relate to the lowest part of the body and in touch with the earth and in the normal course of life as far from heaven as possible. The inherent sexual symbolism of feet has been related to fertility; the genital forces of reproduction; and phallic symbolism. We remain the only species who can copulate vertically face to face and be supported by our feet. In terms of evolution we were bipedal two million years before we developed the brain we now call our own. Throughout history the attractions of the small foot far outweighed those of their over proportioned relatives.

Monstrous feet have always represented malformed and malodorous appendages totally lacking in utility, charm, or sex appeal. Confucius even wrote these matters 2500 years ago yet the concept of an idealised foot probably has its origins within Judo-Christian belief.

In Genesis, we read of God creating man in His own image and likeness. At the height of Christian Art all attempts to capture likeness were idealised. In the history of western culture the making of art has been construed as an essentially masculine activity, while women have been relegated to the domain of temptress, child bearer and domestic. In classical art important differences between the treatment of the male and female nude were apparent.

In Greek art until, the fourth century BC, it was the male nude that dominated, but from this time forward, the female nude became more common.

Classic art had previously given proportions to body parts which were idealised, giving no credence to actual anatomy or physiology. By the time Christianity came along, they too accepted the classic line.

Paradoxically for the first three hundred years of the Christian faith they celebrated appropriation and contemporary art depicted figures displaying unashamed, nakedness. Later this was changed when the fig leaf replaced the genitals. Many of the early works of art were destroyed or defaced to comply with the new order of morality.

When ladies feet were shown they were petite otherwise medieval paintings rarely showed a woman's foot. Since the Renaissance, the classical nude had come to express a sense of bodily perfection ability, of mathematical proportion imposing order on the vagaries of nature. This clean cut nobility was far removed from the reality of the living body, which excretes, gets diseased, grows old and is usually imperfectly formed in the first place. The absence of bodily hair is an example of this was the presentation of feet. Much of the Christian interpretation was emphasis upon sensuality and innocence.

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