The Vitruvian Man's proportions

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 Pollio. The drawing, which is in pen and ink on paper and measures 34.4 cm × 25.5 cm (13.5 in × 10.0 in), 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.

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.


 (click picture to enlarge)

In "De Architectura" at 3.1.2-3 Vitruvius Pollio writes:
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 underside of the nostrils is one third of it; the nose from the underside 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 centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described there from. 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.

These proportions are seen in Leonardo's notes in the drawings 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 (i.e., 12 inches)
    - a cubit is the width of six palms
    - a pace is four cubits
    - a man's height is four cubits (and thus 24 palms)
    - 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
    - the distance from the middle of the chest to the top of the head is a quarter of a man's height
    - the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand is a quarter of a man's height
    - the distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eighth 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
    - the length of a man's foot is one-sixth of his height


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