The depiction of human body changed throughout the centuries and had formed its specific characteristics depending on the nation, geography of its development, and meaning. The figures of human body became cult monuments of the Greek and Roman epochs of flourishing development. Reliefs, stelas, and pictures on all kinds of rock are typical of Egyptian and Assyrian culture. Although the specifics and character of depicting human body is different, it has many common features as well. Human body images of four various nations have a number of details that render cultural, moral, and human values of these civilizations and present both common and opposite values of the nations.
Egyptian and Assyrian reliefs that are under analysis present the depiction of the human body with both respect and glory. Speaking about each masterpiece individually, it is important to note that the funeral stela by an Egyptian artist presents several people who are in the upper part of the social scale. The man is well-built, and his body has beautiful features. He has the image of books and manuscripts beside him, what means that he is a man of science or an architect who obtains a significant place in the society. His woman holds him by the shoulder, providing the support. It is possible to see a small human figure that is bending over the man as if trying to feed him from the bowl. This small figure is in the right upper corner of the stela, what means that the man is clever and wise due to his specific power.
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The man is holding a special stick that intensifies his influence and adds more glory to his image on the stela. In general, the funeral stela is well-adorned, and it is evident that the artist tried to render the situation and the story of this person in detail. The funeral stela should depict the true story of its owner, in this case, the future generations will have an opportunity to discern certain ideas in the details, that help to characterize the person portayed, many years after its creation. The specific character of this stela makes it possible to see the values of the earlier period of the Egyptian society. The female figure in the stela has a smaller image behind her back, depicting a high level of service and honor to her man. The books and manuscripts signify the importance of studying and ability to read literature.
Besides, as the access to libraries was limited to specific scientists and teachers at that time, the person in the stela evidently had a rather high social position. Moreover, speaking about the specifics of the body depiction, it is important to mention the clothing of the people. The woman has a long dress that almost reaches the floor, covering the body curves. However, the man is wearing a traditional male skirt that lets the viewers see his body. The massive chest and muscular legs are also worth noting. It is clear from the depiction of the people in the stela that the artist admires the beauty of the human body. Comparing the Egyptian stela to the relief in the Assyrian palace, it is evident that the men figures in the second relief are more massive and present an iconic image of Assyrian leaders at the time of the Assyrian empire flourishing. The men have beautiful muscular bodies, what their hands, legs, and chests underline. They are wearing traditional clothes ornamented with feathers and specific belts that intensify the image impression with a military touch.
The first man is holding a plate in his hand as if presenting it to somebody while his left hand is closed in a manner of invitation, asking to come closer and drink from the bowl together. His gaze is open and honest, overbearing with a touch of severity and dominance . The men's characteristic beards and long hair, symbols of power and victories in the military campaigns, testify to the fact that they are both great warriors.. The elements of clothing make as the social status of people evident: while the man with the cup is wearing a long dress, the other man behind him has a tunic, opening his legs for the others to see that he is a brave guardian who follows his master and provides him support and protection. The second man has a lower social status, but he is brave and courageous, what the artist managed to render in his direct gaze and open pose. At the same time, the viewers can notice a fleeting spark of grin in his face as he is waving to somebody in front of him. He is smiling, with his hand up in a manner of waving or inviting somebody to join the process.
Compared to the Egyptian depiction of people, the Assyrian reliefs render not only the social status of the main characters but also the emotions of people. Besides, the accent on body depiction is stronger in of Assyrian art than in the Egyptian one. It is possible to conclude that both reliefs present a high value placed on the social position in the society. Moreover, the adornments of both reliefs emphasize the significance of the beauty of the human body as well as the attitude to science and war culture.
The other two examples present two figures of Greek statues of the god Mercury and the goddess Hygieia. Mercury is wearing a winged hat as a symbol of his swiftness. His posture presents a playful manner of communicating with others as he is a little bent to the left, with his body weight centered on his left leg, pressed to the hip andthe right one resting on the part of a terrace or tree. His posture and gaze depict having a talk with somebody. The facial expression is mild as the god, supposedly, is in the process of thinking over some problem or situation. The facial features are straight and right, he elements of the face are proportional and in harmony with each other. Speaking about the body of the god Mercury, it is athletic, with clear lines of a muscular chest, stomach as well as hands and legs.
It is remarkable that the body of the male god is naked while the statue of the female goddess Hygieia has a dress that hides her body, reaching to her feet. This prompts the idea of admiration for the male body and the desire to leave mystery behind the female body. Besides, the statue of Mercury depicts him as slim and tender while Hygieia's body displays pleasant female roundness and softness of all the parts. A characteristic feature of the goddess Hygieia is the snake she is holding over her shoulder and feeding from the plate. Although the snake's body is smooth, its head has a slightly aggressive tone. Hygieia is gazing at her animal with interest, care, and attention, what reveals her unity with the representative of nature.
The combination of the female body and the snake is unique as it fills the viewer with a specific emotion of enjoying the unity of the two perfectly curved bodies. The statues of the god and the goddess are similar in their tenderness and display of the attitude of the epoch to the human body in general. The Greek society worshiped the clarity of curves, the smoothness of details and gestures as well as a neat hairstyle. The clothing of the female body and the nakedness of the male one can render both the meaning of worshiping the female for her dignity and the admiration for the male body and considering it even more beautiful than the female one. Comparing these statues to the other samples of this epoch, it is important to mention the common feature of placing the statues on a small plinth with the aim of making them higher and convenient for observation.
Besides, all male statues have no clothes while most of the female statues have marble dresses. The images of the statues presuppose the depiction of the most important human values that existed in the era of Greek culture such as purity, open character, ability to have unity with nature, and pride of the human body. The cult of the human body is vivid in the details of depicting the mythical gods, in this way portraying the celestial connection between the people and the gods. The human bodies are highly proportional, right and beautiful with well-developed musculature and perfectly curved body elements.
Comparing the depiction of the human body and the values of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Classical Greeks, and Romans, it is important to point out a set of differences and similarities. It is evident that all the cultures worshiped the human body and tried to depict it with maximum glory and exaggeration of specific values. While the Egyptians and Assyrians stressed the militaristic or scientific determination of humans, the Greek valued the naturalistic and more bohemian style of human body. The postures and gestures on Egyptian and Assyrian samples are strictly and sharply curved, adding severity and power to the humans in their reliefs. The statues of Greek and Roman culture have soft curves and gentle lines depicting the mild nature and softness of the human body.
Compared to the depiction of humans in the Western Civilization of the 21st century, the image of the human body became more gentle and feminine as if stressing the unnecessary militaristic values that are vivid in Assyrian reliefs. This indicates a change of values as during the 21st century the human body depiction acquired inner harmony and moved away from the the muscular body portrayal. Besides, contemporary imagery does not pay much attention to the outer features of the human body while the presentation of difficult forms and curves points out its deeper understanding to reach inner harmony and total acceptation of the surrounding reality and life. The values of the current Western Civilization changed to higher and more spiritual ones. At the same time, the cult of a healthy lifestyle and bodybuilding enjoys popularity among its followers and worshipers.
In general, the analysis of the reliefs of the Assyrian palace walls and the Egyptian funeral stela present the image of the ancient culture as a highly developed system of social hierarchy with a focus on the value of knowledge, human power, and beautiful body. The admiration for the body is stronger, inspired by the statues of the Greek mythology gods and their marble depiction. The system of values changed over time, moving the accent further from the physical beauty to the inner harmony within each particular person.
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