How Humans are Represented in Various Cultures

The main objective of the present research is to provide a comprehensive delineation of the human form from Paleolithic art within the arts of Ancient near-East, Ancient Egypt, the Aegean and Greek cultures. To that end, the current research will aim at answering a series of research questions. The first question of the research must be formulated as follows: How humans are represented in various cultures?  The second question of the research must be expressed as follows: What functions have representation of humans served? The third question of the research must be elaborated as follows: Is there in fact a clear development?

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The search for answers will be made in accordance with the pre-planned thesis statement. The thesis statement provides that the representation of humans in pieces of art is predetermined by the peculiarities of social relations among people in a concrete territory.

The representation of human beings in Paleolithic art, Ancient near-Eastern art, Ancient Egyptian, the Aegean and Greek cultures

In order to provide clear answers to the research questions, it is necessary to make insight into the representations of human beings in the different historical cultures. To start with, the Paleolithic era should be deemed the inception of all the artistic representatives. In this period of history, the first humans carved and modelled stone and clay relief sculpture, and produced mural paintings deep within their cave shelters. Also, the evidence shows that the paleolithic artists created portable full-round sculptures from stone and bone. The main peculiarity of this period in respect of the representation of humans was the fact that the early artists went beyond the depiction of human and animal forms in the natural environment.

The evidence shows that the artists of the Paleolithic era are represented, or, in other words, humans are again presented in different forms. Thus, one of the oldest sculptures is a very large ivory figure of a human with a feline head which depicts either a composite creature or a human being wearing animal mask (Paleolithic Art 3). This figure was carved out of mammoth ivory and possibly represented something existed in the rich imagination of the unknown sculptor.

It might be appropriate to note that the composite creatures with animal heads and human bodies (or vice versa) were usual in the art of the Ancient Near East and Egypt. However, the lack of the written sources makes the researchers only to speculate on the role and purposes served by the statuette from Hohlenstein-Stadel.

To elaborate further, women were also represented in the art of the Paleolithic period. One of them is Venus of Willendorf. This is the most famous of all the prehistoric female figures. The statuette demonstrates the anatomical exaggeration (Paleolithic Art 3). However, the meaning of the image remains elusive.

In summary, artists of the Paleolithic period did represented humans in their pieces of work. Nevertheless, human were often represented either anatomically exaggerated or in combination with the animal features. The lack of written evidence prevents scientists from ascertaining the purpose and functions of most from the Paleolithic art.

As far as the period of the Ancient Near Eastern art is concerned, it should be stated that human beings were artistically represented in that period as well. Thus, tens of big white plaster statuettes were found at Ain Ghazal. Some of the statuettes were with two heads and with traits added in paint (Ancient Near East 11). The scientists presuppose that the sculptures have been ritually buried. The representation of humans in Ain Ghazal statuettes differs from that in Paleolithic figurines such as Venus of Willendorf and even the Hohlenstein-Stadel ivory statuette. The statuettes of Ain Ghazal mark the inception of the monumental sculpture in the Ancient Near East.

Also, the representation of humans in art was practiced in the Ancient Egypt. It is possible to distinguish several ways of depicting human beings in the Ancient Egyptian pieces of art. The first way was a composite view of the human figure. The composite representation meant the portrayal of the combined profile views of a person’s head, legs and arms with the front views of his eye and torso (Egypt under the pharaons 42).

The same technique was used in Mesopotamian art and some Paleolithic paintings. Often human bodies were used as a decoration of columns or piers. Under some circumstances, the figure of a man replaced the architectural member and formed the source of architectural support.

To elaborate further, human bodies were also widely incorporated into pieces of the Prehistoric Aegean art. Among other things, the figures of humans often stylized shapes, being highly animated. Similar to the art of Ancient Egypt, Minoans and Ancient Aegeans used the images of humans in the depiction of their gods and goddesses (Minoan Art 75).

One of the landmark achievements of the Minoan Art is the artist’s painstaking study of human anatomy. The knowledge of human anatomy among Aegean artists was truly remarkable. The traditions of Aegean artists were preserved and extended in the art of Ancient Greece. In contrast with the Egyptian statutes of humans, the human figures of the Ancient Greece appeared to be nude and humans seemed to be indistinguishable from deities (Ancient Greece).

In the end of the Archaic period, free standing figures and architectural sculptures manifested rounded naturalism. Also, figures appeared in unified narrative groupings and displayed a multiplicity of dynamic and persuading poses.

Functions served by the representation of humans

In different systems of art, the representation of humans served various functions. As far as the period of the Paleolithic Art is concerned, it needs to be stated that in this era it is impossible to find out the functions served by the representation of humans in art.

Painted Paleolithic humans and animals are represented primarily in profile, but the artists’ approach is descriptive rather than strictly optical. In addition to revealing the artists’ familiarity with and observation of the animals, the images show all the essential visual information required to identify the creatures. For example, most painters employed twisted perspective to join a profile head and frontal horns. The paintings exhibit no attempt to compose animals into groups or narratives, or to show them in a shared space or from a single viewpoint. In the context of the Ancient Near Eastern art, it needs to be clarified that the representation of humans was connection with incarnation of memorable events and social processes such as the payment of tribute to kings, the divine nature of state laws, etc.

In the Ancient Egypt, the representation of humans served functions of religious and spiritual beauty. Therefore, the depiction of people in the Ancient Egyptian pieces of art was based on political, economical, ideological and religious motives. In the Aegean period as well as in Ancient Greece, humans were depicted as the embodiment of philosophical standards and mythological aspirations. However, no period of art manifests a clear development in the principles of the human depictions.


After everything has been given due consideration, it is possible to arrive at the conclusion that the depictions of humans in art is predetermined by the specificities of social relations among people in a concrete territory.

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