Tuesday, June 28

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

Vitruvian Man. Leonardo da Vinci. 1490

Chapter 1 “On Symmetry in Temples and in the Human Body” from Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, describing the perfect human form in geometrical terms, was the source of inspiration for numerous Renaissance artists. The architect proposed that a properly constructed temple should reflect and relate to the parts of the human body. He noted that a human body can be symmetrically inscribed within both a circle and a square, the perfect geometric forms. But only one of these Renaissance artists, the incomparable Leonardo da Vinci, succeeded in correctly illustrating the proportions outlined in Vitruvius’ work De Architectura and the result became his most famous illustration and one of the most recognized drawings in the world, The Vitruvian Man, named in honour of the architect.
This renowned drawing was completed in 1490 and it is accompanied by hand writing notes based on the work of Vitruvius surrounding the figure. It is a pen ink drawing on paper depicting a nude male figure whose outstretched limbs touch the circumference of a circle and the edges of a square. His navel falls in the exact center of the circle, but this depends on the position of the arms and legs and when the figure is in standing position, when the figure is “squared”, the center of gravity becomes the phallus which is, concerning this drawing from the compositional point of view, more important, since it is the center of the underlying geometry that outlines the basic features of the figure.
The fundamental composition consists of a circle, a square and a triangle, a sigillum known to magicians and alchemists, although the compositional triangle on this drawing is concealed.
The drawing is stored in the Gallerie dell’ Accademia in Venice, Italy and it is only displayed occasionally like most works on paper.
Other artists and architects had attempted to depict Vitruvius’ theory  prior to Leonardo with less success. Da Vinci's drawing differs from the previous works in that the male figure adopts two different positions within the same image. He is simultaneously within the circle and the square; movement and liveliness are suggested by the figure's active arms and legs. Leonardo's figure appears as a living being with unruly hair, distinct facial features and a strong build. While the subject is lively, thin lines on his form show the significant points of the proportion scheme., showing da Vinci's concern with the architectural meaning of the work. Leonardo is representing the body as a building and illustrating Renaissance theory which linked the proportions of the human body with architectural planning.
It is apparent that da Vinci wrote the text surrounding the figure in Vitruvian Man alter creating the drawing, as the words are tailored to the contours of the circle and the square. The presence of text legitimates the image; the authority of Vitruvius explains why Leonardo created the drawing. The image is not, however, simply an illustration of the text. Words and image interact in the work and the significance of the piece lies in the connection between the two. By combing text and illustration, da Vinci evokes a meaning which could not be created through words or image alone.

The text accompanying leonardo’s drawing is the complete translation into Italian from the Latin of Vitruvius, De architecture , Book III of X, chapter 1, as da Vinci’s drawing was originally an illustration for a book on the works of Vitruvius. It says:  “The measurements of the human body are distributed by Nature as follows that is that 4 fingers make 1 palm, and 4 palms make 1 foot, 6 palms make 1 cubit; 4 cubits make a man's height. And 4 cubits make one pace and 24 palms make a man; and these measures he used in his buildings. If you open your legs so much as to decrease your height 1/14 and spread and raise your arms till your middle fingers touch the level of the top of your head you must know that the centre of the outspread limbs will be in the navel and the space between the legs will be an equilateral triangle.

The length of a man's outspread arms is equal to his height.

Leonardo da Vinci's self portrait

From the roots of the hair to the bottom of the chin is the tenth of a man's height; from the bottom of the chin to the top of his head is one eighth of his height; from the top of the breast to the top of his head will be one sixth of a man. From the top of the breast to the roots of the hair will be the seventh part of the whole man. From the nipples to the top of the head will be the fourth part of a man. The greatest width of the shoulders contains in itself the fourth part of the man. From the elbow to the tip of the hand will be the fifth part of a man; and from the elbow to the angle of the armpit will be the eighth part of the man. The whole hand will be the tenth part of the man; the beginning of the genitals marks the middle of the man. The foot is the seventh part of the man.
Vitruvian Man's importance lies in its clear reflection of the ideas of its time. It demonstrates the enthusiasm for the theories of Vitruvius among da Vinci and his contemporaries.
Many theories abound about this work, secret meanings and astrological and mystical interpretations of the sketch but I think it is a geometrical study that has stood the test of time, though I am fascinated by the product of the greatest Renaissance artist, scientist, mathematician, inventor, anatomist and engineer, LEONARDO DA VINCI. Enjoy it!