A Quantitative Approach to Beauty. Perceived Attractiveness of Human Faces in World Painting

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Average composites per century for female, both genders, and male.

Has human beauty always been perceived in the same manner? We used a set of 120,000 paintings from different periods to analyze human faces between the 13th and the 20th centuries in order to establish whether there has been a single canon of beauty (that would maximize reproduction probabilities) or whether this has changed over time. Our study shows that when measuring averageness, symmetry, and orientation, the representation of human faces has not remained constant and that there are substantial differences between the faces depicted between the 15th and 18th centuries when compared to those of both the 13th and 20th centuries. Especially significant is the decrease in the perceived beauty of faces in 20th-century paintings, as the freedom of artists and the openness of society fostered the representation of different types of human faces other than that of classical styles.