THE VITRUVIAN MAN
The Vitruvian Man is a world-renowned drawing created by Leonardo da Vinci around the year 1487. It is accompanied by notes based on the work of the famed architect, Vitruvius. The drawing, which is in pen and ink on paper, depicts a male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing and text are sometimes called the Canon of Proportions or, less often, Proportions of Man. It is stored in the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, Italy, and, like most works on paper, is displayed only occasionally.
|Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man|
The drawing is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in Book III of his treatise De Architectura. Vitruvius described the human figure as being the principal source of proportion among the Classical orders of architecture. Other artists had attempted to depict this concept, with less success. Leonardo's drawing is traditionally named in honor of the architect.
Subject and title
This image exemplifies the blend of art and science during the Renaissance and provides the perfect example of Leonardo's keen interest in proportion. In addition, this picture represents a cornerstone of Leonardo's attempts to relate man to nature. Encyclopaedia Britannica online states, "Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe."
According to Leonardo's preview in the accompanying text, written in mirror writing, it was made as a study of the proportions of the (male) human body as described in Vitruvius:
- a palm is the width of four fingers
- a foot is the width of four palms
- a cubit is the width of six palms
- a pace is four cubits
- a man's height is four cubits (and thus 24 palms)
- "erit eaque mensura ad manas pansas" (Literally: "It will be the same in measure to the spread out hands.")
- the length of a man's outspread arms (arm span) is equal to his height
- the distance from the hairline to the bottom of the chin is one-tenth of a man's height
- the distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin is one-eighth of a man's height
- the distance from the bottom of the neck to the hairline is one-sixth of a man's height
- the maximum width of the shoulders is a quarter of a man's height (one cubit)
- the distance from the middle of the chest to the top of the head is a quarter of a man's height (one cubit)
- the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand is a quarter of a man's height (one cubit)
- the distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eighth of a man's height (half a cubit)
- the length of the hand is one-tenth of a man's height
- the distance from the bottom of the chin to the nose is one-third of the length of the head
- the distance from the hairline to the eyebrows is one-third of the length of the face
- the length of the ear is one-third of the length of the face
- the length of a man's foot is one-sixth of his height
Leonardo is clearly illustrating Vitruvius' De architectura 3.1.2-3 which reads:
For the human body is so designed by nature that the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead and the lowest roots of the hair, is a tenth part of the whole height; the open hand from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger is just the same; the head from the chin to the crown is an eighth, and with the neck and shoulder from the top of the breast to the lowest roots of the hair is a sixth; from the middle of the breast to the summit of the crown is a fourth. If we take the height of the face itself, the distance from the bottom of the chin to the under side of the nostrils is one third of it; the nose from the under side of the nostrils to a line between the eyebrows is the same; from there to the lowest roots of the hair is also a third, comprising the forehead. The length of the foot is one sixth of the height of the body; of the forearm, one fourth; and the breadth of the breast is also one fourth. The other members, too, have their own symmetrical proportions, and it was by employing them that the famous painters and sculptors of antiquity attained to great and endless renown. Similarly, in the members of a temple there ought to be the greatest harmony in the symmetrical relations of the different parts to the general magnitude of the whole. Then again, in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centred at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height, as in the case of plane surfaces which are perfectly square.
|Pic: Ingeborg Bernhard/Schnorch|
The multiple viewpoint that set in with Romanticism has convinced us that there is no such thing as a universal set of proportions for the human body. The field of anthropometry was created in order to describe individual variations. Vitruvius' statements may be interpreted as statements about average proportions. Vitruvius takes pains to give a precise mathematical definition of what he means by saying that the navel is the centre of the body, but other definitions lead to different results; for example, the centre of mass of the human body depends on the position of the limbs, and in a standing posture is typically about 10 cm lower than the navel, near the top of the hip bones.
Leonardo's drawing combines a careful reading of the ancient text with his own observation of actual human bodies. In drawing the circle and square he correctly observes that the square cannot have the same centre as the circle, the navel, but is somewhat lower in the anatomy. This adjustment is the innovative part of Leonardo's drawing and what distinguishes it from earlier illustrations. He also departs from Vitruvius by drawing the arms raised to a position in which the fingertips are level with the top of the head, rather than Vitruvius's much lower angle, in which the arms form lines passing through the navel.
The drawing itself is often used as an implied symbol of the essential symmetry of the human body, and by extension, of the universe as a whole.
It may be noticed by examining the drawing that the combination of arm and leg positions actually creates sixteen different poses. The pose with the arms straight out and the feet together is seen to be inscribed in the superimposed square. On the other hand, the "spread-eagle" pose is seen to be inscribed in the superimposed circle.
The drawing was in the collection of Giuseppe Bossi, who illustrated it in his monograph on Leonardo's The Last Supper, Del Cenacolo di Leonardo Da Vinci libri quattro (1810). The following year he excerpted the section of his monograph concerned with the Vitruvian Man and published it as Delle opinioni di Leonardo da Vinci intorno alla simmetria de'Corpi Umani (1811), with a dedication to his friend Antonio Canova.
After Bossi's death in 1815 the Vitruvian Man was acquired, along with the bulk of his drawings, by the Accademia.
Representations in modern times
The Vitruvian Man is now used as a contemporary symbol of medical professionals and medical establishments. Many medical companies have adopted this artwork as the symbol of their group, company or organisation, particularly in the United States, Saudi Arabia, India, and Germany. It has also come to represent alternative medicine and the holopathic approach to wellness.
The Vitruvian Man remains one of the most referenced and reproduced artistic images in the world today. The proportions for the human body, as proposed by Vitruvius, have inspired many other artists in drawing their version of the Vitruvian Man.
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia