Throughout the Classical period, the focus of art gradually seemed to shift not only in the physical proportions of human subjects being displayed, but also in their subject matter. To start, the artwork of the Early Classical period seemed all about the idealization of physical achievement, very specifically masculine achievement. The Kritios Boy, the Riace Warrior and the Myron’s Discobolus statues are all examples of peak male fitness with an emphasis on athleticism and musculature, but the identity, emotional state and personality of the figures being displayed is vague and implied to be unimportant. The focus is not the man himself, but simply the man’s body and what it can do. Even the painted ceramic shows male heroes in acts of victory, continuing the emphasis on masculine physical achievement. This focus seemed to change by the High Classical period, with the importance shifting to the realism of the forms and proportions rather than the overall impression the figures give. The golden ratio was extremely prominent in works of this period, with architecture taking the spotlight (The Akropolis, the Parthenon, and the Porch of the Maidens all being key examples). To contrast, the humanoid figures such as the women on the Grave Stele of Hegeso and Polykleitos’ Doryphoros are shown with very carefully measured and accurate physical proportion, with painstaking attention to details such as the folds of their clothing and the curls of their hair. Their actions are less stressed than the realism, but still show more relatable scenes, with more relaxed posture and more emotion clear on the faces of the subjects. This focus on emotion transitions us to the Late Classical period, where human emotion took the forefront. In all examples from the Late Classical period, humans are the subject, with a much greater focus on relatability and scenes that show vulnerability and sensuality. Praxiteles’ Aphrodite in particular is shown either undressing or covering herself, a very dynamic scene that allows interpretation and interaction from the viewer as opposed to a clearly defined meaning. Even the male figure of Lysippos’ Man is shown grooming himself, a moment of vulnerability taking place after the feats of athleticism implied to have occurred.
To me, this reflects our own society’s ever-changing views on the objectification of human forms, what those forms aught to look like, and how much or how little personality and emotion matter within that context. One example is Mattel’s Barbie, a doll that originally existed for the sake of idealized physical female form and fashion, but has gone through significant changes since then. Barbie — a doll that initially represented modern America’s “ideal woman’ – while still a caricature, has changed in proportion and portrayal over the years since her inception. Barbie dolls are now portrayed with more emotion, more physical variety and less exaggerated features, with a selection of “career’ outfits and accessories for children to play with, which to me reflects modern society’s changes from earlier 50’s era “housewife culture’ and the enforcement of traditional gender roles, to the modern day’s increased desire for educational and workplace equality and the gradual lessening of female sexual objectification. This is only one example, but I believe that the focus on and portrayal of ideal physical form is still constantly evolving within human culture, as it always has.