Leonardo da Vinci: L’Uomo Vitruviano

Keywords: Somatic geometry, proportionality, symmetry, and embodied cognition

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The Vitruvian Man (Italian: Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio, which is translated to “The proportions of the human body according to Vitruvius”), or simply L’Uomo Vitruviano, is a drawing made by the Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci around 1490.

According to Leonardo’s preview 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 VitruviusDe architectura 3.1.2–3, which reads:

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 under side of the nostrils is one third of it; the nose from the under side 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 centred at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. 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.

Further quotations by da Vinci which are relevant for the current Zeitgeist

People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and made things happen.

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

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