Leonardo da Vinci is considered as one of the greatest masters who ever lived in the history of art. He is known for his ingenuity and intelligence which were both transcended to all of his artworks whether drawings, sculptures or paintings. One of the most popular and highly regarded masterpieces of Da Vinci was the Vitruvian Man. This was a drawing of a male human figure that was inscribed in two distinct geometrical shapes of a circle and a square (Priwer and Philips, 2005, p. 117). It looked liked the human figure was adjusting its body in order to fit with the circlular and the rectangular shapes (Place, 2000, n.p.). Since the conceptualization of the drawing, the Vitruvian Man had received several accolades to the point that it has been recognized as an “icon for art, science and the Renaissance” (Priwer and Philips, 2005, p. 117).
Da Vinci based the Vitruvian Man drawing on Vitruvius who was a “Roman engineer from the 1st century B.C.” The significance of Vitruvius in the visual world was that he was able to codify the fundamental architecture principles. He was involved in several architectural projects in ancient Rome in which he exemplified in the field of “structural design and urban planning” (Priwer and Philips, 2005, p. 117). Meanwhile, the notes that were written about the Vitruvian Man displayed Da Vinci’s “mirror writing” method wherein he disclosed the “proportions of the male human body expressed in ratios.” Furthermore, the influence of the classical style of ancient Greece in portraying the beauty of the human body was prevailing during this era. But Da Vinci was able to render a more precise description and interpretation of the human body compared to the outputs of Vitruvius (Harness, 2008, n.p.). Given this background on the inspiration of the drawing, it was probably at the time of Da Vinci’s apprenticeship with Verrochio and the teachings of Alberti that led him to be intrigued with the concept of proportion and the human form (Priwer and Philips, 2005, p. 118).
During the Renaissance period, architecture was viewed as a harmonious modularity. In the Vitruvian Man, Da Vinci showed that this concept can also be applied with the human body which has “a composition of anatomical building blocks comparable to those built of the world” (Priwer and Philips, 2005, p. 117). Because of this interpretation of Da Vinci, his drawing was highly honored and regarded for being an example of a how a human body was seamlessly incorporated with the principles of geometry without distorting the form (Priwer and Philips, 2005, p. 118).
The Vitruvian Man was intended to have a deeper meaning than what it seems. Da Vinci “believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe.” Additionally, many argued that the geometric shapes possess also another connotation. The square represents the material existence while the circle symbolizes the spiritual existence. More so, Da Vinci worked his whole life in finding out the correlation of the human figure and nature’s pattern. He even said that “man is the model of the world” (BBC, 2008). Through this analysis, a connection between humanity and spirituality has been established (Leonardo da Vinci, 2006).
Since Da Vinci introduced his concept about the human body, many other artists such as Mariano di Lacopo or Taccola and Francesco di Giorgio, attempted to duplicate his drawing and create their own understanding about the relationship of art and science. Because of this great following, the Vitruvian Man became the basis for measurement and proportion. Renaissance architects regarded the human body as the “measure of all things” (Gorman, 2002). According to Wittkower, this idea is not “evidence of an anthropocentric world view. Since man was made in the image of God, so it was believed the proportions exemplified in the human form would reflect a divine and cosmic order” (cited in Gorman, 2002, n.p.). In Giorgio Vasari’s recommendations, he said that the layout of an infrastructure should correspond to a specific part of the body. For example, the façade of a building can be matched with the face while the main door is compatible with the mouth and so on (cited in Gorman, 2002, n.p). Moreover,
the typical proportional ratios to be detected in the measurements of the human figure and limbs are to be emplyed for sizing the elements of the building, without any sense at all of the plan or façade corresponding to the body in general disposition. (cited in Gorman, 2002, n.p)
It is evident that the Vitruvian Man had really made an impact during the Renaissance both in the filed of art and science. It was able to change and even challenge the existing ideologies and practices then that significantly improved the aesthetics and techniques of artists as well as scientists and elevated their status in the society. On the other hand, in the contemporary period, the meaning of the Vitruvian Man had evolved. Since the Renaissance, Da Vinci’s drawing acquired several interpretations and analysis. It has become a symbol for various areas of study and organizations. It has become the symbol for fitness, health and medicine. Also, the Vitruvian Man has been considered as the epitome of humankind. Another major contribution of the drawing of Da Vinci is in the field of architecture. The accurate measurements and balanced proportions have turned out to be the fundamental principles in the practice of building and designing different structures. If it were not for Da Vinci and his innovative ideas, the world of art and science would probably not be the same as it is today.
Through Vitruvian Man, Da Vinci was able to express his own understanding of human anatomy, precise proportion and architecture through images and texts. The objective of the drawing is to merge concepts and thoughts about the arts, science and mathematics in a singular and powerful illustration. Through the juxtaposition of words and images, Da Vinci was able to successfully create a significant meaning that has greatly influenced the fields of art and science (Davincilife.com).
BBC. (2008). Vitruvian Man. Retrieved November 24, 2008, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/leonardo/gallery/vitruvian.shtml
Davincilife.com. (n.d.). Vitruvian Man: The Proportions of the Human Figure. Retrieved November 24, 2008, from http://www.davincilife.com/vitruvianman.html
Gorman, M.J. (2002). History. Retrieved November 24, 2008, from http://leonardodavinci.stanford.edu/submissions/clabaugh/history/architecture.html
Harness, B. (2008.) Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Retrieved November 24, 2008, from http://www.finearttouch.com/Da_Vinci_s_Vitruvian_Man.html
Leonardo da Vinci. (2006). Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man. Retrieved November 24, 2008, from http://www.leonardo-davinci.org/index.php
Place, R.M. (2000). Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. TarotL Tarot. . Retrieved November 23, 2008, from http://thealchemicalegg.com/VitruviusN.html
Priwer, S. and Philips, C. (2005). 101 Things You Didn’t Know about Da Vinci. Ohio: Adams Media.