Obesity and art

Bojana Cokić
Zajecar, Serbia


Obesity is the oldest and most common metabolic disorder of humans, as shown even by the sculptures of ancient civilizations, the Greek caryatids, and Egyptian sphinxes and mummies. Many artists have painted it on their canvases as seen through the prism of their artistic eye and in accordance with the prevalent conceptions of their time.


The Venus of Willendorf, located in Vienna’s Natural History Museum, is the statue of a female found in 1908 in the Paleolithic site near Willendorf (Austria). Assumed to be from about 22,000 BC, it is a masterpiece of Paleolithic art. Abu Ali al-Husayn, also known as Avicenna (980-1037), was a leading Persian Islamic philosopher, versatile scientist, and physician. He devoted a whole chapter on obesity in the medical part of the “Canon of Medicine.” For a long time a big belly in men in their forties and fifties was regarded as a sign of prosperity and good health.


Anthonis van Dyck (1599-1641), Flemish Baroque painter and best student of Rubens,
was the leading court painter in London. His paintings of mythological themes
include one of a very obese Bacchus.


Charles Mellin (1597-1649), French baroque artist,
painted the Tuscan general Alessandro del Borro as
a symbol of power.
Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613-1670) was a German painter of portraits. Pictured above is Gerard Andriesz Bicker, son of the mayor of Amsterdam (1642), whose corpulence was a symbol of wealth.


The Merchant’s Wife (1918) Russian Venus (1926)

Boris Mikhaylovich Kustodiev (1878 in 1927.) Russian painter and stage designer. Two of his pieces are pictured above.


Fernando Botero Angulo (1932-) was a painter and sculptor from Columbia. He experimented with
showing corpulent people, and how sometimes comedy shows human life.


Lucian Freud (1922-2011), English surrealist painter and grandson
of Sigmund Freud, painted a sleeping benefits supervisor.


BOJANA COKIĆ, MD, is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in Zajecar, Serbia, where she was been Head of Department Pediatrics from 1986 to 2004 and Head of the Neonatology Service since 2007. She graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Belgrade in 1981. Her specialty is clinical genetics; in 1992 she developed a registry in Zajecar for congenital anomalies and in 2009 established the Association for Down Syndrome in Zajecar.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Winter 2016 – Volume 8, Issue 1, Highlighted Vignette Volume 13, Issue 4 – Fall 2021
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