Presenter: Sonny Ali (Confirmation seminar)

From the circus strongman to bodybuilding shows such as the Mr Olympia, ideas of the perfect male form have always drawn inspiration from the ancient world. In the history of the development of bodybuilding, one figure stands out as representing a turning point in the use of classical precedents as models for his body. This was Eugen Sandow, the ‘father of bodybuilding’ who posed in imitation of art from antiquity. His performances explicitly cemented the connection between classical and contemporary aesthetics and allowed for bodybuilding to emerge as a physical subculture distinct from that of the strongman.

Bodybuilding as a sport did not exist before Eugen Sandow popularised it. Sandow carved for himself a niche by being both capable of being great feats of strength, and posing in imitation of muscular figures from ancient sculptures and Renaissance art. He represented a level of physicality that was previously only found in classical and classicising art, and he shows how the muscular ideal of male bodies in the 1800s and early 1900s was natural in appearance, and did not deviate from standards established in antiquity.