Vitruvian Man
Italian: L'uomo vitruviano
Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour.jpg
ArtistLeonardo da Vinci
Yearc. 1490
TypePen and ink with wash over metalpoint on paper
Dimensions34.6 cm × 25.5 cm (13.6 in × 10.0 in)
LocationGallerie dell'Accademia, Venice, Italy

The Vitruvian Man (Italian: L'uomo vitruviano [ˈlwɔːmo vitruˈvjaːno]; originally known as Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio, lit. 'The proportions of the human body according to Vitruvius') is a drawing made by the Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci in about 1490.[1] It is accompanied by notes based on the work of the Roman architect Vitruvius. The drawing, which is in ink on paper, depicts a man in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and inscribed in a circle and square.

The drawing represents Leonardo's concept of the ideal human body proportions. Its inscription in a square and a circle comes from a description by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in Book III of his treatise De architectura. Yet, as has been demonstrated, Leonardo did not represent Vitruvius's proportions of the limbs but rather included those he found himself after measuring male models in Milan.[2] While the drawing is named after Vitruvius, some scholars today question the appropriateness of such a title, given that it was first used in the 1490s.[2][page needed]

First published in reproduction in 1810, the drawing did not attain its present fame until further reproduced in the later 19th century, and it is not clear that it influenced artistic practice in Leonardo's day or later. It is kept in the Gabinetto dei disegni e delle stampe of the Gallerie dell'Accademia, in Venice, Italy, under reference 228. Like most works on paper, it is displayed to the public only occasionally, so it is not part of the normal exhibition of the museum.[3][4] The work was recently on display at the Louvre's exhibit of Leonardo's work, from 24 October 2019 to 24 February 2020 as part of an agreement between France and Italy.[5][6]

Subject and title

Vitruvian Man, illustration in the edition of De architectura by Vitruvius; illustrated edition by Cesare Cesariano (1521)
Vitruvian Man, illustration in the edition of De architectura by Vitruvius; illustrated edition by Cesare Cesariano (1521)

Leonardo's image demonstrates the blend of mathematics and art during the Renaissance and demonstrates his deep understanding of proportion. In addition, the picture represents a cornerstone of his attempts to relate man to nature. Encyclopædia Britannica online states, "Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe."[7]

According to Leonardo's accompanying text, written in mirror writing,[8] it was made as a study of the proportions of the (male) human body as described in Vitruvius's De 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.[9]

— Ten Books on Architecture, Vitruvius

While Leonardo shows direct knowledge of the work of Vitruvius, his drawing does not follow the description of the ancient text. In drawing the circle and square he observes that the square cannot have the same centre as the circle,[10] but is centered at the groin.[11] This adjustment is the innovative part of Leonardo's drawing and what distinguishes it from earlier illustrations. He also departs from Vitruvius by drawing the arms raised to a position in which the fingertips are level with the top of the head, rather than Vitruvius's much lower angle, in which the arms form lines passing through the navel.

It may be noticed by examining the drawing that the combination of arm and leg positions creates sixteen different poses. The pose with the arms straight out and the feet together is seen to be inscribed in the superimposed square. On the other hand, the spread-eagle pose is seen to be inscribed in the superimposed circle.

Inspirations and proportions

Leonardo's collaboration with Luca Pacioli, the author of Divina proportione (Divine Proportion)[12] have led some to speculate that he incorporated the golden ratio in Vitruvian Man, but this is not supported by any of Leonardo's writings,[13][14] and its proportions do not match the golden ratio precisely.[15] Vitruvian Man is likely to have been drawn before Leonardo met Pacioli. And a circle that is tangent to the square's bottom edge midpoint (like the one in the drawing), but with a radius shorter than the side length of the square by the golden ratio, would pass exactly through the square's upper vertices, differently than how da Vinci drew it. Instead, theories for how the circle's radius were chosen, better fitting the proportions of the drawing, include constructions based on a regular octagon or on the vesica piscis.[16]

A Vitruvian Man prototype by Giacomo Andrea, 1480s
A Vitruvian Man prototype by Giacomo Andrea, 1480s

Many artists attempted to design figures which would satisfy Vitruvius' claim that a human could fit into both a circle and a square, with the earliest known being by Francesco di Giorgio Martini in the 1480s.[17][18] Leonardo may have been influenced by the work of his friend Giacomo Andrea, an architect and expert on Vitruvius, with whom Leonardo records as having dined in 1490. Leonardo also directly references "Andrea's Vitruvius".[18] Andrea's drawing features erasure marks indicating its unique creation.[18][11] As with Leonardo's Vitruvian Man, Andrea's circle is centered on the navel, but only one pose is included.[11]

Translation of the text

The text is in two parts, above and below the image.[a][b] The upper part paraphrases Vitruvius:

Vetruvio, architect, puts in his work on architecture that the measurements of man are in nature distributed in this manner: that is a palm is four fingers, a foot is four palms, a cubit is six palms, four cubits make a man, a pace is four cubits, a man is 24 palms and these measurements are in his buildings. If you open your legs enough that your head is lowered by one-fourteenth of your height and raise your hands enough that your extended fingers touch the line of the top of your head, know that the centre of the extended limbs will be the navel, and the space between the legs will be an equilateral triangle.

The lower section of text gives these proportions:

The length of the outspread arms is equal to the height of a man; from the hairline to the bottom of the chin is one-tenth of the height of a man; from below the chin to the top of the head is one-eighth of the height of a man; from above the chest to the top of the head is one-sixth of the height of a man; from above the chest to the hairline is one-seventh of the height of a man. The maximum width of the shoulders is a quarter of the height of a man; from the breasts to the top of the head is a quarter of the height of a man; the distance from the elbow to the tip of the hand is a quarter of the height of a man; the distance from the elbow to the armpit is one-eighth of the height of a man; the length of the hand is one-tenth of the height of a man; the root of the penis is at half the height of a man; the foot is one-seventh of the height of a man; from below the foot to below the knee is a quarter of the height of a man; from below the knee to the root of the penis is a quarter of the height of a man; the distances from below the chin to the nose and the eyebrows and the hairline are equal to the ears and to one-third of the face.

The points determining these proportions are marked with lines on the drawing. Below the drawing is a single line equal to a side of the square and divided into four cubits, of which the outer two are divided into six palms each, two of which have the mirror-text annotation "palmi"; the outermost two palms are divided into four fingers each, and are each annotated "diti".


The drawing was purchased from Gaudenzio de' Pagave by Giuseppe Bossi,[19] who described, discussed and illustrated it in his monograph on Leonardo's The Last Supper, Del Cenacolo di Leonardo da Vinci (1810).[20] The following year he excerpted the section of his monograph concerned with the Vitruvian Man and published it as Delle opinioni di Leonardo da Vinci intorno alla simmetria de' Corpi Umani (1811), with a dedication to his friend Antonio Canova.[21]

After Bossi's death in 1815 the Vitruvian Man was acquired in 1822, along with a number of his drawings, by the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, Italy, and has remained there since.[22] After the Louvre requested the drawing for a major exhibition of Leonardo's works to open on 24 October 2019, the Italia Nostra argued that the drawing was too fragile to be transported.[23] At a hearing on 16 October 2019, a judge ruled that the group had not proven that the work was too fragile to travel, but set a maximum amount of light for the drawing to be exposed to as well as a subsequent rest period to offset its overall exposure to light. Italy's Minister for Cultural Affairs tweeted that "Now a great cultural operation can start between Italy and France on the two exhibitions about Leonardo in France and Raphael in Rome."[24]

See also


  1. ^ Above the image:

    Vetruvio, architecto, mecte nella sua op(er)a d'architectura, chelle misure dell'omo sono dalla natura
    disstribuite inquessto modo cioè che 4 diti fa 1 palmo, et 4 palmi fa 1 pie, 6 palmi fa un chubito, 4
    cubiti fa 1 homo, he 4 chubiti fa 1 passo, he 24 palmi fa 1 homo ecqueste misure son ne' sua edifiti.
    Settu ap(r)i ta(n)to le ga(m)be chettu chali da chapo 1/14 di tua altez(z)a e ap(r)i e alza tanto le b(r)acia che cholle lunge dita tu tochi la linia della
    somita del chapo, sappi che 'l cie(n)tro delle stremita delle
    ap(er)te me(m)bra fia il bellicho. Ello spatio chessi truova infralle ga(m)be fia tria(n)golo equilatero

  2. ^ Below the image:

    Tanto ap(r)e l'omo nele b(r)accia, qua(n)to ella sua alteza.
    Dal nasscimento de chapegli al fine di sotto del mento è il decimo dell'altez(z)a del(l)'uomo. Dal di socto del mento alla som(m)i-
    tà del chapo he l'octavo dell'altez(z)a dell'omo. Dal di sop(r)a del pecto alla som(m)ità del chapo fia il sexto dell'omo. Dal di so-
    p(r)a del pecto al nasscime(n)to de chapegli fia la sectima parte di tucto l'omo. Dalle tette al di sop(r)a del chapo fia
    la quarta parte dell'omo. La mag(g)iore larg(h)ez(z)a delle spalli chontiene insè [la oct] la quarta parte dell'omo. Dal go-
    mito alla punta della mano fia la quarta parte dell'omo, da esso gomito al termine della isspalla fia la octava
    parte d'esso omo; tucta la mano fia la decima parte dell'omo. Il menb(r)o birile nasscie nel mez(z)o dell'omo. Il
    piè fia la sectima parte dell'omo. Dal di socto del piè al di socto del ginochio fia la quarta parte dell'omo.
    Dal di socto del ginochio al nasscime(n)to del memb(r)o fia la quarta parte dell'omo. Le parti chessi truovano infra
    il me(n)to e 'l naso e 'l nasscime(n)to de chapegli e quel de cigli ciasscuno spatio p(er)se essimile alloreche è 'l terzo del volto


  1. ^ Stemp, Richard, The Secret Language of the Renaissance.
  2. ^ a b Lugli, Emanuele (2019), Borgo, Francesca (ed.), "In cerca della perfezione: nuovi elementi per l'Uomo vitruviano di Leonardo Da Vinci" [In Search of Perfection: New Elements for Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man] (PDF), Leonardo e Vitruvio: Oltre Il Cerchio e Il Quadrato (in Italian)
  3. ^ "The Vitruvian man". Stanford. Retrieved 20 August 2010.
  4. ^ "Da Vinci's Code". SBC. Retrieved 20 August 2010.
  5. ^ Burger, John (1 December 2019). "Louvre exhibit has most da Vinci paintings ever assembled". Aleteia. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  6. ^ Donadio, Rachel (1 December 2019). "Leonardo da Vinci's Unexamined Life as a Painter". The Atlantic. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  7. ^ Heydenreich, Ludwig Heinrich (30 April 2017). "Leonardo da Vinci". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  8. ^ "Leonardo: The Man Who Saved Science". Secrets of the Dead. Season 16. Episode 5. 5 April 2017. PBS.
  9. ^ Vitruvius. "I, "On Symmetry: In Temples And In The Human Body"". Ten Books on Architecture, Book III. Translated by Morris Hicky Morgan. Harvard University Press. Retrieved 15 October 2020 – via
  10. ^ "The Vitruvian Man – Leonardo Da Vinci". Archived from the original on 12 April 2014. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  11. ^ a b c "Leonardo: The Man Who Saved Science". Secrets of the Dead. Season 16. Episode 5. 5 April 2017. 52 minutes in. PBS.
  12. ^ Leonardo da Vinci's Polyhedra, by George W. Hart[1]
  13. ^ Livio, Mario (1 November 2002). "The golden ratio and aesthetics". Plus Magazine. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  14. ^ Keith Devlin (May 2007). "The Myth That Will Not Go Away". Retrieved 26 September 2013. Part of the process of becoming a mathematics writer is, it appears, learning that you cannot refer to the golden ratio without following the first mention by a phrase that goes something like 'which the ancient Greeks and others believed to have divine and mystical properties.' Almost as compulsive is the urge to add a second factoid along the lines of 'Leonardo Da Vinci believed that the human form displays the golden ratio.' There is not a shred of evidence to back up either claim, and every reason to assume they are both false. Yet both claims, along with various others in a similar vein, live on.
  15. ^ Donald E. Simanek. "Fibonacci Flim-Flam". Archived from the original on 17 March 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  16. ^ Murtinho, Vitor (April 2015). "Leonardo's Vitruvian Man Drawing: A New Interpretation Looking at Leonardo's Geometric Constructions". Nexus Network Journal. Springer Science and Business Media {LLC}. 17 (2): 507–524. doi:10.1007/s00004-015-0247-7. S2CID 121033355.
  17. ^ Wolchover, Natalie (31 January 2012). "Did Leonardo da Vinci copy his famous 'Vitruvian Man'?". NBC News. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  18. ^ a b c Lester, Toby (1 February 2012). "The Other Vitruvian Man". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  19. ^ Bossi, Giuseppe (1810)Del Cenacolo di Leonardo da Vinci libri quattro (in Italian) Milano: Stamperia Reale p.208ff
  20. ^ "Bibliographic reference". Retrieved 20 August 2010.
  21. ^ "Bibliographical notice, no. 319". Archived from the original on 7 January 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2010.
  22. ^ "LEONARDO DA VINCI. THE UNIVERSAL MAN". Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  23. ^ Giuffrida, Angela (8 October 2019). "Leonardo da Vinci work 'too fragile' to be transported to France". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  24. ^ Prisco, Jacopo (16 October 2019). "Leonardo da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man' cleared to go to the Louvre". CNN Style. Retrieved 17 October 2019.

Further reading