The body has been used as a sign or symbol in art for centuries. The body was used to symbolize perfection in ancient Greece, and in Egypt, to give a precise image for the God of the After-life. Not to mention their colossal monuments which promote power and glory, and are used to intimidate. However contemporary artists use the body as a symbol which conveys a whole range of different kinds of layered meaning, although the simple symbol of power has not been lost over the centuries.
Ancient Greek sculptures of the body are a medium between man and the gods, they are an ideal of physical perfection. The female figure of c.650-625 B.C. (fig. 123) and a nude male youth of c.600 B.C. (fig. 124) are perfect examples of the use of symbols to convey meaning. These statues, Kore (maiden) and Kouros (youth) were produced in large numbers, all being virtually the same in outline. Their general names emphasised the need for the statues to remain unidentified and the lack of personal character. Some were placed on graves only to be viewed as representations of the deceased in the broadest sense (completely impersonal). And some were used as offerings, for example: for a favoured person like the victor in an athletic competition.The strange lack of differentiation seems to be part of the character of these figures. They are neither gods nor men, but rather somewhere in between, a symbol of physical perfection, an ideal shared by not only humans but also immortals, the gods.
Moreover, statues of the body in Ancient Greek art were also used to capture the image of the gods themselves. Nine of Samothrace (fig. 181)has a dramatic impact on the viewer. It is the image of the goddess descending upon the prow of a ship. The beauty of the shapes that the body creates, glorifies and beautifies the goddess. It is a symbol of the power and immortality of the gods and the sole purpose of the artist is to convey this beauty and power to the people of Ancient Greece.
Ancient Egypt is also another place in which the body was used as a symbol or sign. Colossal monuments such as The Great Temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel was a symbol of great power and wealth, as only pharaohs were able to create these monuments. Size was everything to the Egyptian pharaohs, it was the primary key to emphasise and increase their power and worshipers. The wonderful inscriptions and hieroglyphs found on temple walls were of great importance. The use of the body in the relief work on the temple walls were used to convey a perfect image of the deceased to the God of the After life. The detail and intricacy of the body was to insure that they could be recreated to perfection in their life after death.
Contemporary works that use...