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Representations of the human form

Images of the human face and body have been central to the art of many cultures. Here are five striking examples covering a period of 25,000 years.

22,000 - 25,000 years old

Representations of the human form

La Dame de Brassempouy

This tiny ivory figurine is one of the earliest known representations of the human face. For Simon Schama it represents the dawn of the idea of beauty.

3,000 years old

Representations of the human form

Olmec Head

We don’t know who this enormous head depicts nor why it was made but it’s further proof that when people first made art, they made it about themselves.

300 - 100 BCE

Representations of the human form

Boxer at Rest

Early in the 5th century BCE, Greek sculpture sprang to life, replacing rigid idealised figures with the illusion of movement and realistic details. That dramatic leap forward in technique is now known as the Greek Revolution and this figure of a battered boxer highlights what was new.

210 BCE

Representations of the human form

Terracotta Army

The biggest tableau of sculpture ever made was uncovered in China’s Xi’an province in 1974. The 7000 figures represent the imperial guard of the Emperor Qin. At first glance they all look different but the truth is more intriguing.


Representations of the human form

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon - Picasso

Pablo Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907. The five female faces show the influence of ancient Iberian sculptures and of the African tribal masks that Picasso saw in an exhibition in Paris that year.