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The representation of the figure has long been an important exploration in a multitude of artistic methods. An interest in classical motifs and anatomy was revived in the Renaissance; artists were concerned with representing the minutia of the human form. This interest was scientific, but also served an artistic purpose as artists wished to more accurately paint and draw the body.
Interest in the human figure coincided with the rise of printmaking in Western Europe. Printmaking assisted with the dissemination of anatomical illustrations, helping to advance scientific study and medical technology. Artists like Andrea Mantegna borrowed from rediscovered classical art in his study of the human form and used printmaking to reproduce his images for distribution to a wide audience.
Interest in figural art continued throughout the early 20th century, though artistic attention did turn to landscape, industrial scenes, and eventually abstract expressionism. The figure also has a place in contemporary printmaking, as artists moved away from abstraction in the post war period.
In the early 1500s, the Italian painter and printmaker Parmigianino created exceptional figural engravings, etchings, and woodcuts. He used the etching technique to work out the figure in the sinuous style of mannerism
The German Expressionist group Die Brucke explored the human figure primarily through woodcut prints, favoring the rough, primitive result from quickly drawn sketches
Lucien Freud created etchings early in his career, then rediscovered etching in the 1980s. Freud drew directly onto the copper plate, and his etchings are notable for the candor with which he treats his subjects, especially his nudes