Naturalism in Art Throughout the Ages Figural representations in art can vary from stylized or idealistic all the way to naturalistic. For the purpose of this essay, naturalism is defined as strictly abiding to the true physical appearance of a representation with little to no exaggeration of details. Artworks from five different historical periods: Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Romanesque, show varying levels of naturalism. The least natural artwork is “Menkaure and Khamerernebty(? ” (Figure 1), followed by “Crucifixion Mosaic” (Figure 2), “Head of an Old Man” (Figure 3), “Kroisos”(Figure 4), and “Virgin of Paris”(Figure 5). Each of these pieces portrays some sort of human figure, but with different levels of detail and adherence to the true form. Exaggerated forms or more stylized ones places the work further down the spectrum from naturalism. The statue of the pharaoh “Menkaure and Khamerernebty”(Figure 1) from Gizeh, Egypt during the Fourth Dynasty is an Egyptian representation of one of their rulers.
The artificial posture of the figures is demonstrated in the fully frontal and rigid poses that do not allow for the natural movement or fluidity of the human body. The lack of movement is emphasized by how the male figure is standing with one foot slightly forward, and yet there is no shift in the hips to distribute his weight. Menkaure and his queen are both bilaterally symmetrical down the center of their respective bodies. Symmetry, with regards to human form, is very unnatural because people are not identical on either side of their body.
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Figure 1 shows how the Egyptians sculpted their rulers based on idealized, godlike anatomical shapes rather than the natural appearance of the person. Menkaure is stocky and muscular with broad shoulders to show his power and strength. The idealized nature of the figures as well as the lack of movement is far from natural. Their faces are both blank and expressionless with both eyes staring straight ahead. The facial features of the queen are similar to Menkaure’s to symbolize their connectedness rather than show how she really appeared. Figure 1 and the “Crucifixion Mosaic” (Figure 2) both contain men as religious leaders.
In Figure 2, however, the figures have deeply sorrowed expressions in contrast to the blank stares in Figure 1. The people are slightly frontal but in a much less rigid and more fluid manner. Jesus on the cross shows movement by the way he leans slightly on his right hip and his legs follow in the same direction. The elongated, slender form of the body is a Byzantine stylistic approach to depicting human forms. Sinuous lines give the mosaic a mystical, elegant nature. The fingers and toes are long and narrow straying away from a more natural appearance.
The desire for a mystical quality in the mosaic overrides the more natural stances of the figures. Both the “Crucifixion Mosaic” and the statue of “Kroisos” portray men who died as heroes. In Figure 3, the body appears more naturally masculine than the thin elongated bodies in Figure 2. The body is in proportion with the head, and his hair falls naturally down his back. Kroisos’ face and legs are more rounded than Figure 1, showing the natural line that sculpts the body. Figure 3 has a slight smile on his face, which makes it more realistic because people tend to show some sort of expression.
There is little sense of movement due to the rigid frontal posture and clenched fists. He has one foot forward and yet there is no sense of a shift in weight like in Figure 2. The less stylized portrayal of the male body gives this statue a more natural appearance than Figure 2. “Kroisis” and “Head of and Old Man” are both artworks sculpted out of marble. This Roman sculpture was created to portray an idealized version of the person it represents. In this case however, the older members of society held the majority of the power and were much revered.
Figure 4 shows every wrinkle and line that appears on an elderly person’s face which is much more natural than the blemish-free faces in Figures 1, 2 and 3. This portrait is an example of a veristic, or super-realistic depiction. Although it is much more realistic, it goes so far as to over-exaggerate the true appearance which takes away from the naturalism of the artwork. The wrinkles on the ear are so overstated, that it makes it appear as though the person may have been mauled. His droopy eyelids and slightly sagging chin are realistic features of an aging man thus enhancing its naturalism.