Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci

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Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci

Painting NameVitruvian Man
Painter NameLeonardo da Vinci
Completion Date1490
Size34.4 cm × 25.5 cm (13.5 in × 10.0 in)
TechniquePen and ink with wash over metalpoint
MaterialPaper
Current LocationGallerie dell'Accademia (Venice Italy)

Vitruvian Man is Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous drawing and maybe world’s most popular drawing, too. It represents the proportion of an idle human body. There are two drawings of a naked men superimposed on each other with arms and legs spread out on different angles. Around the men, there are two geometric shapes, a circle and a square. Both, shapes touch at significant points to the men’s drawings, quickly making us realizing that there are some calculations hidden in an average human body. Vitruvian Man is now a representative of a perfect human body and sometimes it also stands for a perfect human as well. It is a huge accomplishment for a mere piece of paper and the artists who drew it. Though, the “fun fact” is that, the “Vitruvian Man” wasn’t the Leonardo’s own Idea. Many people discard the word “Vitruvian” as some name for an idle person. On the other hand, it is the name of the person who invented the theory of proportions in human body.

The Real Vitruvian

Vitruvian Man is considered to be the portrayal of an idle human body. It has perfect shapes with calculations such as an idle human body is eight heads high and the two outer points of stretched arms on both sides is also the length of any individual human. These kind of calculations, more accurately, proportions were firstly observed by the Roman Architect Vitruvius born around 80th century BC. As a professional architect, Vitruvius designed small and big architectures (including buildings and machines). For every part of a building (such as rooms, baths, etc.), he figured out the need of calculating the human proportion for the idle size of a room or of a building or everything a human interacts with. It made him to search out for the proportion of an idle man, and that’s our Vitruvian Man. As Leonardo confirmed in his drawing, Vitruvius figured out these natural proportions in human body:

  • a palm is four fingers
  • a foot is four palms
  • a cubit is six palms
  • four cubits make a man
  • a pace is four cubits
  • a man is 24 palms

Vitruvias described all his findings in his book about architecture De Architectura (also the first extant book on architecture). Above and below the drawing, Leonardo has included Vitruvius’ name in his famed mirror-writing. It’s worth noting that, De Architectura is the same book from which we firstly got the reference of the famous story of “Eureka!” and the famous mathematician Archimedes.

Leonardo’s Original Notes

On the upper and lower end of the drawing, Leonardo has written about the scales and proportions. Here is the same excerpt in English which was originally written in Italian with Leonardo’s mirror writing technique:

” Vitruvius, the architect, says in his work on architecture that 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 center 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.

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. From the sole of the foot to below the knee will be the fourth part of the man. From below the knee to the beginning of the genitals will be the fourth part of the man. The distance from the bottom of the chin to the nose and from the roots of the hair to the eyebrows is, in each case the same, and like the ear, a third of the face.”

Leonardo has just made it famous by his drawing skills. Just like many of his other works Vitruvian Man has got immensely popular in modern times and had been copied, parodied or used in many films, books and researches to squeeze out new meanings from the masterpiece.

As it happens with mostly every masterpiece of Leonardo, Vitruvian man also has got theories, beliefs and speculation regarding to its origin, the drawn man as Leonardo being himself or being the God Himself. Some intrigues us; some makes sense while others are just conjured up.

It also has related to the Washington DC’s outlay of streets but speculations are speculations until some firm stuff makes us to believe in them, until that Vitruvian man of Leonardo da Vinci is going to stand as the portrayal of an idle human.

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