Vitruvian man

the fine art classics and the most known depiction of the human body

The human body has always been an integral part of art, indicating the anthropocentrism of our culture. Approaches and goals in the depiction of human nature have changed throughout the history of the mankind and art. They correspond to the general mood and views of different eras.

The history of the human body drawing

The first depictions of the human body can be traced to prehistoric times. People considered themselves an integral part of nature back then. Their bodies were a logical continuation of all the processes around them. One of the oldest known examples of human figures' cave art comes from South Sulawesi. It is approximately 44,000 years old. The painting depicts a hunting scene and shows a curious perspective on body drawing. The human bodies are completely simplified symbolic stick figures though with accurate anatomical proportions. But one of the figures has a bird's head, and the other has a tail. Hybrids of people and animals who act as gods and spirits are present in the folklore of all modern nations.

Unique art of ancient Egypt depicts idealized human body drawings with deep sense. In the minds of the Egyptian artists, physical and mental capabilities were intertwined. Different body parts were connected with the mental capacities of a human. For example, the eyes were associated with knowledge, the nose - with life, the legs - with action, and the hands - with control. The human body was depicted as a container of some divine power.


The masters of ancient Greece created the classical canons of beauty. They systematized the general proportions of the human body. It became the training basis for artists of the following centuries. ("Doriphorus" by Polykletos and "Aphrodite of Cnidus" by Praxiteles can be good examples). Ancient Greeks paid so much attention to the human body because of their ideal of the individual. External beauty was a sign of a good soul and high moral principles.

The Middle Ages were led by the Christian perception of the physical body and life in general as a sin by default. It changed not only sociocultural norms but also art itself, which became religious. Human bodies had an appearance that didn't have to bring aesthetic pleasure. It was the absolute opposite of the ancient view of human beauty as a manifestation of the divine.

Ancient ideas about the perfection of the human body were resurrected during the Renaissance. They established the system of proportions, following the ancient Hellene predecessors. Leonardo da Vinci is best known for his systematic approach to human proportions. Till our days, artists keep following this perfection.

Leonardo da Vinci human Anatomy drawings
Leonardo da Vinci was an outstanding painter, sculptor, architect, scientist, and engineer. He created a harmonious image of a person corresponding to humanistic ideals.

He had a special passion for studying the anatomy of the human body, conducting an autopsy more than once, all to depict human figures accurately on his canvases.

Leonardo da Vinci anatomy drawings were very revolutionary for his time. Not only did he make sketches of body parts and muscle groups. He also showed them in sections. Leonardo accompanied each drawing with notes in the form of mirrored lines. Leonardo followed a strict sequence in creating anatomical drawings. Da Vinci's sketches are not different from the works of modern artists who draw human anatomy. Many anatomists believe that da Vinci's scientific work was 300 years ahead of its time.

Leonardo fixed the results of numerical observations in sketches and full-scale studies. He used a pencil, silver pencil, pen, and others. Da Vinci achieved great sharpness in conveying facial expressions and brought the physical features into agreement with the spiritual atmosphere of the composition.

For Leonardo da Vinci, art and science were inseparably connected. He understood painting as a universal language. The proportions and perspectives of discovering a reasonable beginning that reigns in nature are embodied in it.

To learn more about the Vitruvian man, we've prepared an in-depth article that will make an interesting read. If you need to develop such an engaging paper, you can also consider using assistance of the best custom writing services.

Vitruvius theory of the
perfect proportions
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a Roman architect of the 2nd half of the 1st century BC.
Marcus Vitruvius Polio

He was the author of the "Ten books about architecture". He developed the formula of the triune essence of building art. It had three components: strength, utility, and beauty. Pollio also created the idea of "Vitruvian man" - a diagram of the proportions of a perfect body.

In his treatise, Vitruvius described the basic principles of architecture. One of them, Symmetria, is the harmony of individual parts of the building as a whole and among themselves.

Strong anthropomorphism is concealed under this category. This principle is illustrated by the example of the harmony of the human body. It was in the third book that he determined the proportions of a person. Vitruvius laid the foundation of proportionality in fine art classics and architecture. It had a significant influence on the art of the Renaissance. In search of perfection, Da Vinci improved Pollio's theory of the perfect proportions of a human. This is how he created the famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man.

Da Vinci's
Vitruvian man
The image of a naked male figure is one of the most famous and replicated works of Leonardo da Vinci.

Moreover, it is one of the most well-known human figures in fine art classics. This painting has different names: Uomo Vitruviano, Domus Aeternus, and The Canon of Proportions. In da Vinci's diary, it is named "The Proportions of the Human Figure after Vitruvius". Still, the whole world knows it as the Vitruvian man.

So, what is Vitruvian man? It is a drawing from a series of graphic studies on the subject of the structure and proportions of the human body. It was created at the turn of the 1480s-1490s. Leonardo painted this drawing on a page of his diary, using a pen, watercolor, and a metal pencil with ink.

Da Vinci was convinced that art should be based on scientific knowledge. He comprehended anatomy as well as architecture. After all, he worked for the ruler of Milan, Lodovico Sforza as a painter and also as an architect. The Vitruvian man was also painted by other artists of that time. Still, the image created by Leonardo most closely corresponds to the text. Vitruvius considered human proportions to reflect the harmony of the universe. Leonardo shared this point of view. He called his anatomical studies "the cosmography of the microcosm".

Vitruvian man
The rediscovery of the proportions of the human body was one of the great achievements of the XV century.

The image illustrates the main idea of Vitruvius about the perfect body. The height is equal to the length of the outstretched arms. All body parts make perfect measurements. Their sizes are all related to one another.

This way, a palm equals in size to four fingers, while four palms equal one foot. One cubit equals the size of six palms. The height of a person is four cubits (and twenty-four palms). A step equals four cubits. The span of human hands is equal to the human's height. Leonardo counted the proportions of the height very neatly. He also measured the length of arms and width of shoulders relating to the height of a human. Leonardo also described the perfect proportions of the face. He calculated the distance between the hairline, chin, nose, and eyebrows.

Da Vinci's drawing depicts a man in two combined projections. Those are with arms and legs apart and with crossed legs and outstretched arms. Da Vinci managed to depict 16 poses in one drawing simultaneously. This drawing reflects da Vinci's desire for perfect proportions in everything. Yet, besides the artistic value, it can also contain deeper meanings.

What is Vitruvian symbolism?
Many people are curious to discover Vitruvian man hidden meaning. The artist considered man as a projection of the universe.

This idea is suggested by the entry left by da Vinci in his diary. He writes that an ancient man is a world in miniature. The body is made of earth, water, air, and fire and resembles a microcosm of the universe. The figure of a man is inscribed in a circle and a square. They have points of contact and a single center. This point coincides with the navel. Probably, the center of the human body is associated with the center of the Universe. Its symmetry symbolizes the harmony of the world. Yet, Leonardo himself did not leave explanations for his work. So, its exact meaning is unknown.

The circle and the square symbolize the divine and the earthly. The circle has long been considered a symbol of the world, and the square reflects the four elements. So, in the drawing of da Vinci, a person combines the material and the spiritual world.

Vitruvian man is the embodiment of the Renaissance worldview. It shows a human as a manifestation of divine harmony.

The mystery of the Vitruvian man with 3 sets of arms

Leonardo da Vinci's legacy is covered with many mysteries. The Vitruvian man has its secrets too. Strangely enough, people often tend to be mistaken when remembering the number of his limbs. Somehow, it has some kind of Mandela effect on the observers. Many people are sure it has three sets of arms 3 sets of legs, while in reality there are only 2 sets of each!

Maybe, this phenomenon has something to do with the "motion" effect of the drawing. When changing positions, it seems that the center of the figure is moving. In fact, the navel of the figure, which is its real center, remains motionless. While observing the Vitruvian man, our brain gets confused with the layering of different limb positions. Perhaps, that is why some people tend to remember the man having an extra set of arms.