For centuries depictions of the human figure were prized more highly than those of still-life, animals or landscape, and from the Renaissance onward anatomy became a staple of the artist's training.
The human figure in art carries, in different ways and through different periods, a huge significance, being the most direct means by which art can address the human condition. In early societies its significance was supernatural, a rendering of gods or spirits in human form. Later, in the Renaissance, although Christianity provided the dominant social belief system, western art's obsession with the figure reflected an increasingly humanist outlook, with humankind at the center of the universe. The distortions of Modernist art, meanwhile, may be interpreted as reflecting human alienation, isolation and anguish (see for example the work of Francis Bacon).
Numerous films in the Roland Collection deal with figurative art; this section highlights some of those in which concern with representing the figure is most conspicuous.