Leonardo da Vinci’s famous artwork has always been seen as the pinnacle of art within human history. As a master of arts and science, he was always appreciated for his work such as incredible blueprints of technology, which was clearly ahead of its time, and the famous Mona Lisa portrait. However, you must understand that the Vitruvian Man is truly his most significant work. It is not merely a piece of art but also a mathematical diagram that tries to convey the idea that everything in this world is interconnected.
It is said that this drawing, which was completed in 1492, tries to define a “perfect” body, from a physical aspect, with the right geometrical proportions which are measured by the man within the circle and the man within the square being perfectly balanced and aligned. From this theoretical framework, Leonardo da Vinci managed to create sixteen hypotheses.
However, before we delve deeper into the meaning of the Vitruvian Man, we need to see what was the origin of this idea.
As we can see in this picture of the original drawing of the Vitruvian Man, it also contains some writing that explains the meaning behind the actual drawing. The first idea we see in this drawing is actually the proportions of the human body according to Marcus Vitruvius.
Vitruvius was a Roman author and architect from the 1st century that tried to give man proportions as he gave shapes to buildings. In this ideology he was trying to portray how everything inside a building is connected, the same happens with the human body. This connection results in the theoretical framework of everything in life being connected in some way. Leonardo da Vinci took it upon himself, with the aid of his great knowledge, to understand this ideology and to further developed this theoretical framework through the Vitruvian man drawing/mathematical diagram.
Historians assume that the Vitruvian Man was a major inspiration for many of da Vinci’s designs as showed a true understanding of the ideology behind the drawing and the ideology Marcus Vitruvius had created.
The meaning hidden between the words
In the first piece of text, da Vinci tried to portray the idea of everything being the right size and in the right place by exemplifying the human body as having a “perfect” geometry.
This is what the first text that is trying to describe the meaning behind it.
- Four fingers are equal with a palm
- Four hand palms are equal to a leg
- Six hand palms are equal to an elbow
- Four elbows are equal to the height of a human
- Four elbows are also equal to a human step
- Twenty-four hand palms are equal to a whole human
“If you open your legs so much that you decrease your height by 1/14 and stretch and raise your arms until your middle toes reach the middle of your head, you should know that the center of the extended limbs will be in the navel and the space between the legs will be an equilateral triangle. The length of a man’s outstretched arms is equal to his height.” (Text from The Vitruvian Man drawing translated into English from Latin.)
- “From the roots of the hair to the base of the chin is the tenth of a man’s height.”
- “From the lower part of the chin to the top of the head is an eighth of its height.”
- “From the tip of the breast to the tip of the head will be one-sixth of a man.”
- “From the tip of the breast to the roots of the hair will be the seventh part of the whole man.”
- “From the nipple to the tip of the head will be the fourth part of a man.”
- “The largest shoulder-width contains a quarter of a man’s height.”
- “From the elbow to the tip of the hand will be the fifth part of a man.”
- “From the elbow to the angle of the armpit will be the eighth part of a man.”
- “The whole hand will be the tenth part of a man.”
- “The beginning of the genitals marks the middle of the man.”
- “The sole of the foot is the seventh part of a man.”
- “From the sole of the foot even to the knee shall be the fourth part of a man’s height.”
- “From the knee to the beginning of the genitals will be the fourth part of a 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 length of the ear, is one-third of the front.”
All the pieces of text that are in bullet point format have been taken from the texts within the Vitruvian Man drawing and translated from Latin to English.
From the two texts, we can see how da Vinci is describing that every part of the human body can fit within the other, showing geometrical perfection within the human body. With this, as with many other pieces of art and historical texts, it’s all about reading in between the lines to get the true meaning that the author intended to convey.
The drawing itself is kept very safe within the Venice Accademia Gallery. Due to its age as well as significant importance. To this day, this drawing is considered one of the most important in the world. Another interesting perspective is how many other texts have been written by da Vinci with such significant messages.
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