Gottfried Bammes: mentor extraordinaire


Gottfried Bammes was born in 1920 in Freital, Germany. He would have suffered through WWII’s devastation, and it seems likely he would have served in the German Military. Regardless, he finished his education at the Dresden University of Technology (1957–1959), which would have been in his late 30s. Perhaps, he was in Russian prison camps for some time.

We know that he was behind the Iron Curtain from 1961 to 1989, coinciding with the time frame of us becoming familiar with this great educator.

Bammes worked as a Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden. He was a prolific writer and artist. He was considered a master of life drawing and anatomy, and produced numerous books on the subject in his lifetime. Some of his books can be found online at along with other great masters.

First published in German in 1964, Gestalt des Menschen is still considered the definitive guide to drawing the human form. Having undergone numerous editions since it was first published and still much in demand today, this, the first-ever English translation of the complete work, has been long-awaited. Based on the most recent German edition and faithful to the original, it contains over 1200 photographs, diagrams, and drawings, including work by the author himself, and spans over 500 pages. Now, both new and experienced English-speaking artists and illustrators can benefit from the vast body of knowledge accumulated and lovingly presented by Professor Bammes in his acclaimed work. We highly recommend having the book in your library.


This comprehensive guide begins with the history of human anatomy for artists and its influence on developing the body’s artistic visualization. Bammes explores the human skeleton and musculature, the proportions of the body; the static and dynamic laws of posture and movement; body language; and the interrelationships of the body’s various elements. Through his systematic and practical teaching approach, the reader acquires an in-depth knowledge of anatomy and express the human form in art. The translation of this book from German to English is not ideal as the translator seems to know little about art, which makes some of the phrasing awkward.

Curiously Bammes did not have high regard for the efforts of Vanderpoel, Bridgman, and other American Anatomists. Quite the opposite, he felt Bridgman was deficient. We have suffered through Bridgman and all of the usual suspects. There is much to be learned from various sources and a good instructor realizes that some people relate to different instruction in different ways. The emphasis should always be on drawing and painting with anatomy and structure as a means of understanding that function creates form.

The first of Bammes’ books, we became aware of, was the English edition ‘The Artist’s Guide to Human Anatomy,’ published by Chartwell Books in 1994. 

Based on a four-semester lesson plan consisting of weekly 3-hour sessions and homework. The book has over 200 drawings by Bammes’ students. Beyond the anatomical, this work gives beginners a solid foundation on where and how to begin. This basic course demonstrates the a working knowledge of the forms the make up the human body are an indespensible tool for the foundation student.

The information about proportion provides essential guidance to articulating the parts to the whole or the Gestalt. Gottfried approaches proportion with simplified forms that are easy to remember. Hale refers to this stage of development as the ‘Mass Conception.’ These initial studies in proportion work threw a series of exercises that focus on movement and visual weight.

We highly recommend doing these exercises in sequence as presented paying special attention to the media used. Bammes intentionally uses both dry and wet media. He avoids all detail initially in favor of capturing gesture of the whole or the gestalt. The first exercises emphysize the mass conception of shape first with volume secondary at this point. The figure is broken down into basic geometric units, i. e., a rectangle for the rib cage, a trapezoid for the pelvis, and ovoid for the head etc. This is similar to Bridgman and Hale with the exception that Bammes used the length of the head instead of the cranial index which is based on the width of the skull. It should be noted that the method here is getting a feel for human proportions via the simpliest means possible. No time is wasted shapening pencils and trying to create any degree of finish. The Classical Realist focus on copying nature has no place here and in fact is alien to learning to draw and paint. Art is an individual activity and group think and identical results have no place anywhere in the course of learning to draw. If you are in a program that insist on mimetic exercises and dogmatic observational theory you are in the wrong place.

Next he examines the internal forms as well as the external forms. The forms closest to the viewer or convexities are shaded and the concavities remain light. This is a valuable exercise as are all of those in the course, we have traditionally taught as the submersion concept… envision the model submersed in the tub of water and slowly draining out the water. The parts of the body that emerge first are shaded first.

We should point out and aspect of drawing here that is important in describing form. Lines do not appear in nature and here Bammes creates his linear contours not with line but via shading outside of the form.

The body is not static and requires various weight shifts to maintain balance. There is beautiful natural rhythm created by the figure in the contrapposto position, there is also a beautiful undulating rhythm that occurs in the profile view of the human form. We are the only ones of God’s creatures that spends a great deal of time on two feet, which requires a constant weight shift and adjustment to the force of gravity to remain upright. Our relationship to the earths pull is the constant we must look for in every pose.

Exercises in this book will help eliminat your dependency on the model. It is important to do the exercises as proscribed. One should do the cut-outs or Lino Prints to tackle the concept of contrapposto.

The line of gravity runs from the pit of the neck to the sole of the weight baring foot. One can add a diagrammatic skeleton hers as well. Our mission here is to understand the structure of the human form by envisioning it as a structure.

After proportion, Bammes tackles standing and seated poses. We found these exercises to be extremely helpful in learning how to work from imagination. Doing these thumbnails from imagination was a daily exercise for over a year, we started with a limited number of poses, then went to reference to add a few more. We repeated the procedure over and over until with had a full repetoire of aspective poses. It is important to use a variety of wet and dry media, so that we are learning how to use the various media while we learn about proportion, weight, balance, movement and negative shapes.

The key here is simplicity, details are not your friend. Think in terms of the major segments starting always with the torso which consist of the rectangular rib-cage, the pelvis either a trapezoid or horizontal rectangle with a pliable connecting form in between. Next place the weight baring leg, then the support leg leaving the head to be balanced on top for last.


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