Art History Lab

Exploring the Rich Legacy of Anthropomorphism in Art and Culture

Anthropomorphism Definition and Examples

When you see a cartoon mouse wearing a bow tie and tap dancing, you are probably witnessing anthropomorphism. This is the psychological tendency to attribute human traits, emotions, and intentions to nonhuman entities.

Anthropomorphism has been a part of human culture since ancient times. In this article, we will explore the definition of anthropomorphism and look at some examples of it throughout history.

Definition of Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism comes from the Greek words “anthropos” meaning human, and “morphe” meaning form. It is commonly defined as the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to non-human entities.

This can range from animals to inanimate objects, like cars and machines. It is a way of humanizing things that are not human, making them more relatable and understandable to us.

The roots of anthropomorphism can be traced back to early human cultures. Many ancient societies, such as the Egyptians and Greeks, worshipped gods that were depicted with human characteristics.

Their art and literature were filled with stories of deities who acted like humans, experiencing love, jealousy, anger, and other emotions.

Examples of Anthropomorphism throughout History

The ancient Egyptians had a rich tradition of anthropomorphism in their religion. Their gods and goddesses were depicted with animal heads and human bodies.

For example, the god Anubis was shown with the head of a jackal, while the goddess Bastet had the head of a cat. These deities were seen as having the same emotions and characteristics as humans.

Similarly, in ancient Greece, gods were depicted with human qualities, taking on human personalities, desires, and needs. They were not infallible and often experienced the same emotions as mortals.

This made them more relatable to the people who worshipped them. Anthropomorphism continues to be a popular theme in modern art, literature, and media.

Many cartoons, fantasy novels, and films depict animals and inanimate objects with human traits. For example, Disney’s “The Lion King” portrays all the animals in the African savanna as having human-like relationships, speaking in human language but with animal features.

Anthropomorphism is also used in comedy, satire, and criticism. For instance, in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” animals are depicted as having human qualities that make them seem more relatable to the audience.

Similarly, in “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss, cats are shown to have human-like intelligence and cunning.

Reasons for Anthropomorphism

The question arises, why do humans tend to anthropomorphize nonhuman entities? There are different perspectives on this phenomenon, including historical, psychological, and emotional explanations.

Historical Perspectives on Anthropomorphism

The ancient Greeks believed that the gods resembled humans, as it helped them to relate to the divine beings. They could find meaning and guidance in their interactions with the gods, who were seen as having similar desires and needs as mortals.

This perspective is reflected in Xenophanes’ statement that “If horses had gods, they would look like horses.”

Similarly, many religions feature anthropomorphic gods that are meant to be relatable and understandable. The concept of an anthropomorphic deity has been explored in various religious texts, including Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism.

Psychological and Emotional Explanations for Anthropomorphism

David Hume, an eighteenth-century philosopher, believed that the tendency to anthropomorphize stems from an “intellectual need.” Humans cannot fully comprehend non-human entities, so they try to understand them through the lens of their own experiences and senses. Sigmund Freud, a pioneer in the field of psychoanalysis, believed that the tendency to anthropomorphize stems from emotional reasons.

He argued that humans project their own emotions and desires onto others, including animals and inanimate objects. This projection allows humans to relate to their environment in a more meaningful way.


Anthropomorphism is a common phenomenon in human culture, one that has been part of human civilization since ancient times. It involves attributing human traits, emotions, and intentions to nonhuman entities, making them more relatable to humans.

Anthropomorphism has a variety of purposes, including historical, psychological, and emotional explanations. Understanding the reasons behind anthropomorphism can help explain why it persists as such an important part of human life.

Famous Anthropomorphic Artworks

Art has been used to explore anthropomorphism in a variety of ways. From ancient Egyptian depictions of gods with human bodies and animal heads to modern surrealist creations, artists have used anthropomorphism to explore the human condition in different ways.

In this article expansion, we will explore some of the most famous anthropomorphic artworks throughout history and in modern times.

Anthropomorphic Artworks from Ancient Times

Anthropomorphic art has been used as a way to depict gods and goddesses in ancient Egyptian art. The deities were often depicted with the head of an animal and a human body, signifying their powerful and often subtle nature.

One example of this is the god Horus, who was depicted with the head of a falcon and a human body, signifying his connection to the sky and the afterlife. Greek and Roman mythology also heavily used anthropomorphic art to depict the gods and goddesses.

For instance, the Greek goddess Athena was often depicted with an owl to represent her wisdom, while the Roman god Bacchus was commonly depicted with a grapevine, signifying his association with wine. These depictions helped the Greeks and Romans bring the immortals to life to the masses.

Modern Examples of Anthropomorphic Art

The use of anthropomorphism has continued in modern art as well. One of the most famous examples is Giuseppe Arcimboldo, an Italian artist known for creating portraits using fruits, vegetables, and other objects.

His works are still celebrated today for their unique compositions and creative use of anthropomorphism. Max Ernst, a German artist and one of the founders of Dadaism and Surrealism, is known for his surrealist works, many of which incorporate anthropomorphism.

His paintings and works often feature strange and fantastical creatures, blurring the lines between the human and animal worlds. Salvador Dal, a Spanish artist, was known for his eccentric personality and his use of abstract and surreal images in his works.

Dal’s paintings often used anthropomorphic images to create a dreamlike quality, and he frequently used double imagery, making his works look like they could be interpreted in more than one way. Egyptian painter Ahmed Morsi is another modern artist who has worked with anthropomorphic art.

Using a surrealist style, Morsi often depicts animals with human features as a way of exploring the relationship between humans and nature. Much of his work is influenced by ancient Egyptian mythology and symbolism, which adds to the importance of his pieces.

Book Recommendations

If you are interested in learning more about Max Ernst’s works and influence, a great starting point is “Max Ernst: A Retrospective” by Werner Spies. This large-format book features hundreds of his paintings, drawings, and sculptures and includes essays by leading art experts.

For those interested in Guiseppe Arcimboldo’s rediscovery and collection, “Arcimboldo: Visual Jokes, Natural History, and Still-Life Painting” by Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann is a detailed look at Arcimboldo’s life and his creative processes. The book includes beautiful reproductions of his paintings and tapestries, providing insight into how he created his imaginative portraits.

If you want to learn more about Salvador Dal’s life and art, “The Secret Life of Salvador Dal” by Salvador Dal and Maurice Nadea explores the artist’s life and includes a collection of his most important paintings and drawings. This book provides a fascinating deep dive into the genius of Salvador Dal.

If you are interested in Ahmed Morsi’s Egyptian influences and anthropomorphic depictions, “Ahmed Morsi: A Dialogue of Inner Voices” by Adel El-Siwi is an excellent book for understanding his works. It includes works that feature both animal and human imagery and explores the cultural context behind his art and how it influenced his works.


Anthropomorphism has been a prominent theme in art throughout history. Whether exploring mythology or interpreting abstract ideas, artists have used this technique to express themselves in different ways.

With the help of these book recommendations and examples of famous anthropomorphic artworks, readers are sure to gain a better understanding of this timelessly popular genre.

Understanding Anthropomorphism in Art and Culture

Anthropomorphism has played a significant role in human culture and art, providing an endless outlet for imagination, expression, and inspiration. From ancient tales of gods and goddesses to modern-day cartoons, anthropomorphism allows us to explore the world around us and escape our own anxieties.

In this article expansion, we will explore the significance of anthropomorphism in art and culture and its history as a creative and imaginative outlet.

Significance of Anthropomorphism in Art and Culture

Anthropomorphism is a way of assigning human qualities and characteristics to non-human entities, including animals, plants, and even inanimate objects. In art and culture, this technique has many meanings and uses.

For some, it provides an escape from the mundane reality of everyday life, while for others, it is a way of exploring our most profound anxieties and fears. One of the most significant benefits of anthropomorphism in art and culture is its ability to inspire creative expression.

It allows us to imagine wondrous worlds and characters, using our imagination to interpret the world around us in unique and interesting ways. Anthropomorphic art can also be a powerful outlet for anxieties and fears.

When we anthropomorphize objects or animals, we can explore concepts that may be too abstract or frightening to approach directly. By assigning human-like qualities to them, we are better able to confront and express these concepts in a safe and imaginative way.

Embracing Anthropomorphism throughout History

Throughout history, humans have embraced anthropomorphism in various forms. Ancient cultures used anthropomorphism in mythology, assigning human characteristics and emotions to their gods and goddesses.

This practice allowed them to understand the complexities of the world around them and provided a basis for their beliefs and values. Medieval and Renaissance artists also frequently used anthropomorphism in their works.

Animals were depicted with human expressions and emotions, creating a new style of art that explored the boundaries between the human and animal worlds. In modern times, anthropomorphism has taken on many new meanings and uses.

It is frequently used in media such as film, television, and video games to create more relatable and interesting characters. Anthropomorphic animals, for example, are often used in children’s entertainment, giving younger audiences a chance to explore complex emotions and ideas through characters that are easier to relate to than humans.

Anthropomorphism has also been used as a form of escapism in modern-day culture. Animated films and television shows featuring anthropomorphic characters often create fantastical worlds with unique set designs and imaginative landscapes, presenting an idealistic view of the world that is both entertaining and escapist.


Anthropomorphism has played an important role in human culture and art, providing an outlet for expression, creativity, and imagination. It has been used throughout history to explore complex ideas and emotions in a safe and imaginative way.

In modern times, anthropomorphism continues to be a popular and meaningful form of expression and escapism. Understanding its significance in art and culture can provide us with a deeper understanding of the human experience and how we use creativity to explore and express our feelings and ideas.

Anthropomorphism is a significant aspect of art and culture that allows us to assign human qualities to non-human entities. From ancient mythology to modern media, it serves as a powerful tool for creative expression, escape from reality, and exploration of complex ideas and emotions.

By anthropomorphizing objects and animals, we can delve into wondrous worlds, confront our anxieties, and find inspiration. Through history, humans have embraced anthropomorphism as a means of understanding the world and as a form of entertainment.

This article highlights the enduring importance of anthropomorphism in our lives and cultures, reminding us of the rich potential of our imagination and the ways in which art can shape our understanding of the world.

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