Thursday, May 18, 2006
The Vitruvian Man
The Vitruvian Man is a famous drawing with accompanying notes by Leonardo da Vinci made around the year 1492 in one of his journals. It depicts a naked 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 on display in the Gallerie dell' Accademia in Venice, Italy. It can been seen as one of the first theories of measurements in life drawing.
Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, an example of the blend of art and science during the Renaissance.This image 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." It is also believed by some that Leonardo Da Vinci symbolised the material existence by the square and spiritual existence by the circle. Thus he attempted to depict the correlation between these two aspects of human existence.
According to Leonardo's notes 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 a treatise by the Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, who wrote that in the human body:
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 man's height is four cubits (and thus 24 palms)
a pace is four cubits
the length of a man's outspread arms 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 maximum width of the shoulders is a quarter of a man's height
the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand is one-fifth of a man's height
the distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eight of a man's height
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
Leonardo is clearly illustrating Vitruvius De Architectura 3.1.3 which reads:
The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.
There is of course no such thing as a universal set of proportions for the human body. The field of anthropometry was created in order to describe these individual variations. Vitruvius' statements may be interpreted as statements about average proportions, or perhaps as descriptions of an ideal human form. Vitruvius goes through some trouble to give a precise mathematical definition of what he means by saying that the navel is the center of the body, but other definitions lead to different results; for example, the center 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.
Life drawing uses measurement constantly to acheive proportion and likeness. Hints from Richard Hatton on figure drawings give the basics of measurement when drawing. Wet Canvas too, provides information on proportion when drawing from life.
Nancy Doyle provides good information on the mechanics of drawing in her site.
Finally, my own life drawing efforts. Not recent, but from my archives. I will find a life class this summer and get back into that stream which I miss. It really does provide wonderful experience and hones your drawing skills.
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