Research Point 4.6.1: Depiction of the Face throughout History

The face is a part of the body which has been the focal point to a lot of artwork throughout history. The first thing you look for when seeing a human figure is their face; taking into account their eyes, nose, mouth, hair colour and style, as well as the general face shape amongst other things. It is how we identify one person from the next and how beauty is generally measured before taking into consideration the rest of the physique of the person.

The measurement of facial beauty has altered throughout history and is different to each viewer. For instance, my own version of ideal in a male partner is dark, glossy hair and dark sparkly eyes. However, another may find this unappealing, preferring for instance blonde with blue eyes as their ideal.

The general ideal beauty of the face has also varied immensely throughout time; the Ancient Egyptians portrayed the face from the side as this was deemed the perfect angle, the hair was black, they wore heavy black eyeliner and their skin was a golden hue.

Fig. 1. Anonymous Fragment de la décoration d’une tombe : femme à une cérémonie. Règne de Thoutmosis IV ou Aménophis III. (Unknown)

Much later, in a different part of the world, the ideal for the female was seen to be that of pale skin with long blonde curls and a fullness to the face, all of which were seen to symbolise the virtue and daintiness of a woman. In the piece, below, the woman’s face is very dainty and angelic-like, with a rosy glow to her cheeks and lips.

Fig. 2. Borovikovsky, V Portrait of M I Lopukhina (1797)

The face has not only been used to represent the beauty of a person, but also the more sinister aspects. Munch, for example, created a whole piece appearing to show several people on a bridge, with the eye immediately being pulled to the brightness of the red sky, but when the eye finally moves downward to the figure in the foreground (whose colouring is very muted in comparison to the sky), they are met with quite a frightful sight. The face appears on a head in the shape of a skull. There are no eyebrows or hair to the face and the lips look as though suffering cyanosis. No eyelids can be distinguished over the bulbous eyes which appear to be looking at something just to the side of the viewer, leading one to wonder what they may see if they turn around! I have always found this piece to be the stuff of nightmares, but I am also strangely drawn into the fear of the piece. I really like the movement of the colours and how the foreground is much more muted than the background, creating that suspenseful moment before you see the actual horror within the piece.

Fig. 3. Munch, E The Scream (1893)

Below is another piece which I find rather disturbing due to the solid black voids where the eyes should be and the stark contrasts of black on one side and white on the other. I also really admire the artist’s capability to exclude outlines on the white side and create almost a straight line on the black side, as well as the different pressures used in the mark-making, yet you are still able to determine that this is a face and also the sense of depth in the piece. The addition of red towards the bottom of the piece is also intriguing and helps to draw the viewer in, leading to an imagining of blood, causing the viewer to wonder whether the subject has been attacked, is hurt or has hurt someone else.

Fig. 4. Juliussen, O Face (2016)

With the comments from my tutor in her feedback that I should look for works which I can relate to, I decided to look for more expressive pieces of the face and came across an artist called Naji Chalhoub, whose work is shown in Fig. 5 and Fig. 6. I was instantly drawn to these pieces and can really see a similarity between them and my 360 degree sketches.

In the two pieces, I can see quite a difference in the amount of pressure applied in each. Fig 5. has been created with a very heavy-hand (and is actually my preferred of the two!) and really emphasises the features of the piece much clearer than those in Fig. 6. Again, there are several colours included in the composition. I think they definitely add a little extra depth to the piece and make it more interesting. I am somewhat less drawn to Fig. 6 and think it is because it is much lighter and without the bold tones. The lines in this piece are much gentler and softer but somehow appears a little more sinisiter. I cannot quite put my finger on why this is? Perhaps it is because its faintness leads the viewer to imagine it in a more ethereal way, like the face is coming through from a different dimension? Perhaps the darkness of Fig. 5 helps the viewer see a more solid existence to the face and makes it that little bit more believable? Regardless, I will try and replicate these pieces in my own sketchbook and see if I can achieve the lighter touch!

Fig. 7. Audrey Anne (2018)

The final piece is somewhat more cartoon-like than the previous pieces, however, there is a lot of blank space, difference in pressure applied and a range of tonal values throughout the piece. The eyebrows and lashes are much darker than the shadowing to the neck, for example. There are also several different methods of application; for example, the colour to the cheeks has been applied using the flat side of the pencil and the general outline using the point, as well as areas of hatching, such as the shadowing to the neck and the hair above the ear. Overall, the piece is extremely delicate and has not been overworked. Definitely something to bear in mind!

There have been so many interpretations of the face over the centuries uses of media, line, tone, colours and methods. I have taken from this that I should be adventurous in my choice of surface, media and application as, as my tutor has previously said, the finished piece does not always need to look like a ‘pretty picture’. I would like to complete a piece in a ‘pretty’ way to be able to measure my skills correctly, however, I will also look at creating pieces of this kind without having to fully recreate what I see physically, but include emotions felt towards the subject to create something different and interesting.

List of Illustrations

Fig. 1. Anonymous (unknown) Fragment de la décoration d’une tombe : femme à une cérémonie. Règne de Thoutmosis IV ou Aménophis III [unknown] At: (accessed on 5 August 2019)

Fig. 2. Borovikovsky, V (1797) Portrait of M I Lopukhina [oil on canvas] At: (accessed on 5 August 2019)

Fig. 3. Munch, E (1893) The Scream [oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard] At:,_1893,_The_Scream,_oil,_tempera_and_pastel_on_cardboard,_91_x_73_cm,_National_Gallery_of_Norway.jpg (accessed on 5 August 2019)

Fig. 4. Juliussen, O (2016) Face [ink on paper] At: (Accessed on 9 August 2019)

Fig. 5. Chalhoub, N (unknown) [drawing] At: (Accessed on 21 August 2019)

Fig. 6. Chalhoub, N (unknown) [drawing] At: (Accessed on 21 August 2019)

Fig. 7. Audrey Anne (2018) [pencil] At: (Accessed on 21 August 2019)


The Guardian (2014) ‘The Top 10 Unforgettable Faces in Art’ [online] At: (Accessed on 9 August 2019)

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