Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Boys, Boys, Boys! /// Patterns of Beauty and Function :The Naked Adonis

Image: The Death of Adonis by Giuseppe Mazzuoli / Poster of Mystic Knights of Adonis Mardi Gras Parade.

Since my previous installment was about Venus in Art, I supposed it would be fair ( and logic) to talk about her male equivalent: Adonis, used as a synonym for any depiction of a beautiful boy. Certain formulae have been used to determine this through history.

Image: Kourós / Advertisement for Eau de Toilette Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent

We begin with the Kourói, statues that represented teenage soldiers and were based on geometrical figures. Hair and muscles in perfect symmetry, broad thorax and tiny waist. The pose was stiff; and there’s an awkward attempt of facial expression, an “archaic smile”.

Image: Discobolus of Myron / Logo for Gymnasium UNT, Argentinian high school for men

Stiffness left, eventually. With the Olympics, gorgeous man sculptures were all about action. The Discobolus was an example: twisted right before throwing the disc. Although deadpan, as if he wasn’t making an effort.

Image: Doryphoros of Polykleitos / Marlon Brando as Julius Caesar

The first proper Kanon was developed by Polykleitos. According to it, the idealistic human figure must be eight heads tall, pubis at mid-height, arms so long their wingspan is equal to height, with a certain correlation between the lengths of body parts. However, we’re just about 7-7.5 heads tall.

Image: The Vitrubian Man / Stormtrooper

Then Da Vinci drew The Vitrubian Man, or Canon of Proportions; accompanied by notes on the architect Vitruvius, who considered humans the main source of proportion in classic architecture. Everything was based on the width of palms and feet, and distances were strictly calculated.

Image: Le Modulor / Real human comparing himself at habitational unit in Marseilles

In the 20th century, Le Corbusier brought these ideas back with Le Modulor. He used him as a universal scale in construction. The first version was 2.16m tall – including raised arm, with a body shape similar to that of the kourós. Not quite realistic, yet the arm up and relaxed position are meant to leave enough room, in theory.

Today, we use any of these patterns - or a mixture of them - to represent men as units, sex-symbols, or mere depictions.

Now that we agree beauty is subjective, and mathematics aren’t always right: are they still of any use? Do we need new ones? Or none at all? / Cynthia Rodriguez