The Vitruvian Man: A guide to proportion and symmetry
The Vitruvian Man, a foremost work of arts, science and everything in between is a 15th century drawing made with pen and ink.
The masterpiece was created by the most famous ‘Renaissance Man’, Leonardo Da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci was an artist and a dedicated scientist with a curious and brilliant intelligence. He was fascinated by the laws of science and nature and studied them in detail, which are portrayed in his creations. His work has influenced countless souls from various fields.
Depiction of the Vitruvian Man
The Vitruvian Man by Leonard Da Vinci was also referred to as “The proportions of the human body according to Vitruvius”.
The diagram was based on the notes of the ‘Building Guide’ by Architect Vitruvian Pollio also known as Vitruvius.
The guide is mainly focused on architecture but also explores the human body which is a true example of perfect proportions.
The idea behind the artist’s impression was to explore the idea of proportion. Old Masters believed that “everything connects to everything else”, therefore the piece is a combination of art and mathematical diagram.
The pen and ink sketch depicts two nude male figures in a superimposed position with their arms and legs spread apart. This allows them to form 16 different poses simultaneously as they are inscribed in a square and a circle. This implies that the man is in harmony with the world around him.
The drawing is also accompanied by two blocks of texts written backward.
The notes which Leonardo Da Vinci referred to and converted them into the Vitruvian man explain the proportion of the parts of the human body. These proportions noted below are standards for the height of the human face and body.
- The face-
- The distance between the chin and the nostrils is 1/3 of the whole face.
- From under the nostrils to the eyebrows is again 1/3 of the face.
- And the eyebrow to the hairline is also 1/3 of the face.
- The body-
- The complete face, i.e. chin to hairline, is 1/10 of the human body.
- The head, chin to the crown, it measures 1/8 of the human body.
- From breast to hairline is 1/6 of the human body.
- From breast to the crown is ¼ of the human body.
- The length of the foot is 1/6 of the height of a human.
- From the wrist to the tip of the fingers is 1/10 of the human height.
- The length of the forearm and the breadth of the breast are ¼ of the height of a human.
This theory explains to us that in ancient times, the proportions 1:3, 1:4, 1:6, 1:8, and 1:10 are proportions appropriate to man. Architects have also used many proportions of other parts of the body including the ones mentioned above. Many other proportions have been evolved from different concepts as the above proportions cannot be used in all architectural elements.
For instance, a room with its length six to eight times of the width is not practical.
The Vitruvian Man in Architecture
The architects of the Renaissance period believed “Man is the measure of all things”. As, the man was made in the image of God, so the proportions would define some order.
Size, scale, and proportions are the keys to perfect design and there are many devices used for this purpose of which the ‘Vitruvian Man’ is the one.
If we look at the diagram carefully the Vitruvius begins with a focal point, the navel. All the elements in this diagram are measured from this point forming circles and squares.
Architecture is a game of symmetry so is a human body. The Vitruvian Man has been used to develop the concepts in architecture.
By examining the human body, both the artists Vitrivuis and Da Vinci understood the importance of proportions and symmetry in design. The same theory is been followed in the architectural design of today.
Let’s look at one of the Architectural examples where the Vitruvian man has been used; to understand it better.
Basillica at Fano
The building’s proportions are taken from the Vitruvius module. The width to length ratio is 1:2; the height of aisle around is the same as its width, i.e. 1:1. The columns of the basilica are in the ratio of 1:10: five feet thick and fifty feet high.
Inspired from the Vitruvian Man, Le Corbusier developed the modular- an anthropomorphic scale of proportions.
Over the centuries the proportion has been studied and many systems have been derived like the Fibonacci number, the Golden Ratio, the double unit and the Vitruvian Man. These formulas or tricks are in use since ages for proportionate design which is the key to perfection.
The buildings are designed for humans, so now we understand why it’s important to study human proportions in architecture and design for them.