Before Photoshop was Invented…

Julia Roberts Lancôme Advertisement

People, Marie Claire, Allure, Seventeen, many of us, including me, have flipped through the pages of these popular magazines that are constantly telling you what’s hot in Hollywood. Whenever I look at all of the pictures, one thing always sticks out; all of the photoshopped advertisements, with “perfect” models.

Our society’s view of beauty and perfection is highly skewed. According to these commercials, the most beautiful people are tall, skinny, perfect skin, perfect hair; but the truth is that most people don’t look like the people in these advertisements, and even the pictures have added touch ups.

While studying art in the Renaissance, I realized how the art is beautiful, but is not focused on beauty or perfection. The art reflects the humanist perspective that we are all human. Therefore as humans, we have imperfections which make us unique.

In A History of Western Society, John P. McKay writes,“People were conscious of their physical uniqueness and wanted their individuality immortalized” (McKay et al 423). People were aware of their imperfections; is that what made beauty in the renaissance? Physical perfection does not mean beauty. If everyone were “perfect”, we would all look the same. The inconsistencies among us are what make us different and establishes our individuality, and that is beautiful.

Portrait of a Carthusian

In the painting, Portrait of a Carthusian, painted in 1446 by Petras Christas, the veins in his forehead are an example of human imperfection. Also, a fly at the bottom of the painting has caused much speculation of its meaning. In a smarthistory discussion by Dr. David Drogin, Dr. Beth Harris, they argue that  that the fly represents death. I support this theory, because flies have a short life span, which reminds us that everything dies and we are all human (see their discussion of this painting at the smarthistory website here).

The Money Changer and his Wife

The Money Changer and his Wife, another Renaissance painting from 1514 by Quentin Metsys, the man on the left appears to be counting money, and the woman on the right is reading a religious text. However, if you look closely, it is clear that she is not focused on her book, but rather the money being handled by her husband next to her. The people in the painting are struggling with a very human issue, something very real. Although no physical imperfection is shown within their appearance, they are clearly in an imperfect world, filled with problems in humanity. (See more about this painting at the Louvre Museum’s website here).

Society’s perception of beauty is one that could take some lessons from the Renaissance. Celebrate your uniqueness, and embrace your individuality. Perfection lies within our imperfections.

Works Cited

Drogin, David and Beth Harris, narr. “Petrus Christus, Portrait of a Carthusian, 1446 (Metropolitan Museum of Art).” Smarthistory. Vimeo, 8/11. web. 23 Feb 2012. <;.

Guillaume, Kazerouni. “The Money Lender and his Wife.” Louvre. Musée du Louvre, n.d. Web. 24 Feb 2012. <;.

McKay, John P., Bennet D. Hill, John Buckler, Clare H. Crowston, and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks. A History of Western Society. 9th ed. B. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. 421. Print.


Julia Roberts Lancome Advertisement. N.d. Photograph. Chocolate CatsWeb. 3 Mar 2012. <;.

Petrus Christus. Portrait of a Carthusian. 1446. Painting. WikipediaWeb. 3 Mar 2012

Quentin Metsys. The Money Changer and his Wife. 1514. Painting. James Long 2D-3D ConversionsWeb. 3 Mar 2012.

Feature Image

Photoshopped Model. N.d. Photograph. Hearty MagazineWeb. 3 Mar 2012.



  1. matthewthemadscientist

    Just a thought, but isn’t photoshop used ton try to manipulate people into buying stuff rather than make art look perfect?

    • ilana1234

      Hey Matthew, Thank you very much for reading my post!
      As for your question, yes, photoshop is used to try and manipulate people into buying things; however, I believe that it is trying to make the photos look perfect, because when people see these advertisements, they are being told that the models in these advertisements are perfect. Companies want you to think that if you use their product, you will look perfect like the model in the picture. They are trying to sell you their version of perfection. So I would say that yes photoshop is used to make art look perfect, but the art is being made perfect to manipulate people to buy a company’s product.
      Once again, thanks for reading my post, and I hope I answered your question.

      • matthewthemadscientist

        But if it’s is used fot corporate manipulation, is it still “art”?

  2. sydney013868

    Hi Ilana! I really like your post! I like how you explain the difference between Renaissance and Today’s perceptions of beauty. Do you think that we should make a law that bans the use of photoshop in advertisements like England has, or do you think that we should continue to allow alterations of photos to be sold to millions of people?

    • ilana1234

      Hey Sydney, thanks for reading my post!
      As for your question, I believe that if an advertisement is photoshopped to the extent that it misrepresents what the product does or how it looks in real life, then the advertisement should not be allowed; however, if photoshopping does not distort the quality of the product, then I think there is less harm in using photoshop.

      For example, if the advertisement is for an eyeliner brand, and photoshop is used to even the skin tone of the model, there is no distortion of the product itself. If another eyeliner advertisement uses photoshop to make the eyeliner smoother, or more intense, then the advertisement is showing the eyeliner to be better in quality than it actually is. This should not be allowed. Thanks,

  3. ilana1234

    Matthew, thanks for bringing up another interesting point!
    While Renaissance art is not the same as advertisements, what is considered art or not is a difficult line to draw. For example, someone could look at a building, and say that the complex architecture makes it art, while others just see a building. Some people may look at advertisements and see art, and others don’t.

    Also, art is a reflection of the society producing the art, and that society’s perception of beauty. During the Renaissance, there was much realism in art, illustrating imperfections, because the humanist movement taught that we are all human. Just like Renaissance art reflects its time, the cover of People magazine, or advertisements inside, are a reflection of our society and its understanding of what is beautiful. Advertisements at least have this connection with Renaissance art, whether advertisements are considered art or not, and that is why I decided to write about them in my blogpost. Thanks,

  4. morgigglez

    Hey Ilana!
    I really enjoyed reading your post! I think you have a very unique way of looking at things and your post maintained an interesting flow. I noticed you think renaissance beauty should be considered modern beauty as well, but don’t you think beauty has evolved along with everything else has with time?


    • ilana1234

      Hey Morgan, thanks for reading my post!
      I agree with you that beauty has evolved along with time, and what is perceived as beautiful has changed since the Renaissance. I think that while our view of beauty changes, there are still good concepts that people can hold on to, or put to use once more, and one of these is the concept that beauty comes from our imperfections that make us individuals. While I acknowledge the fact that people’s perceptions of beauty are different, and change through time, the embrace of our imperfections is an idea that our society should have once more. Thanks,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: