Art imitates life, or is that life imitates art? Throughout the millennia genius artists have depicted archetypical myths, inherent truths and stories through their craft. A great many of these works feature beards in all their splendid glory. The detail and structure in these works show that the beard played a prominent role in these masterpieces.
We’ll start with a renowned painter everyone knows.
Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh’s life was anything but simple. His work is a standard bearer in the most basic of art classes. How many times have we retraced those maddened paint-strokes of the premier misunderstood artist? The Starry Night is a nocturnal abstract expression of what was going on in this great mind. Stylistic choices like this translated into his many self-portraits.
Van Gogh’s many self-portraits point towards his ailing health, lack of care for his body and tortured self-mutilated acts of artistic insanity. Note that in this painting, the beard doesn’t look that unkept. Like any aloof man being photographed or sketched, Van Gogh never looks towards his intended audience. Blank eyes stare off into the abyss.
He was an unsuccessful artist during his lifetime and was also considered a failure. Van Gogh’s expressionist and avant-garde genius gained prominence posthumously, lest we also forget his expert-level depictions of his faithful beard.
This famed fountain in Rome, Italy is one of the largest of its kind and its importance is known worldwide. Towering 86ft high, it boasts a Baroque style crafted in the 15th century. Right in the middle of this goliath stands Neptune or Poseidon, depending on your pagan sensibilities. Don’t confuse this fountain with its replica in Las Vegas. It’s mythical qualities supersede anything that sought to copy it.
A master of the ocean, Neptune is led by his chariot and accomplices to both of his sides. The interpretation of the differing temperaments of the animals is symbolic of the serenity and pure spontaneity of the sea.
The God’s beard is like a manifestation of the waters. Its wavy flows are the envy of all mere mortals. To command a beard like that would require some serious ambrosia-like oils of the gods.
Bacchus and Ariadne
There is a lot going on in this oil painting by Titian, a 16th century Italian painter. He was also another artist whose many portraits portrayed bearded painters. This famed painting drew from deep historical roots from the likes of Ovid and Catullus. It depicts Bacchus, the Roman God of Wine, based off his more ancient counterpart — Dionysus, in a procession of revelry.
Notice in the bearded procession the heavily bearded snake entwined Satyr. There are many interpretations of this Dionysian naturalistic painting. Our bearded envoy is entombed in nature’s unrelenting grasp. His wild hair is indicative of nature’s hold over all of us, human and animal included.
The Khrosabad Gate
Assyrian art dating back to the 700’s BCE time project a stunning depiction of royalty and beards. In the Procession of figures, an elite royal showcases his stunningly intricate beard. He is then followed by a troupe of shaved men.
This piece of art history is just one of many in the area. There are winged beasts with faces of man reminiscent of the Egyptian Sphinx. It is important to savor these works as they are precariously held in tumultuous areas of distress.
The inclusion or exclusion of beards in works of art are telling of the culture during that time and whether or not a great importance was placed on them. For many works they were central to the identity of the characters they represent.