Vitruvius was an architect and engineer who lived during
the days of the 1st century BC Roman Empire, his writings included a
treatise on architecture which included the measurements of the human body.
Vitruvius stated that a man with his arms and legs outstretched would fit into
the square and the circle geometrically and that the centre of the human body
would be the navel.
Attempts to square the circle that is to fit the square
neatly inside a circle and then fit the human body in proportion so that the
arms and legs would simultaneously touch both the square and the circle did not
work. This model necessitated the elongation of the hands and feet distorting
the proportions to an unacceptable level.
The Euro. (w)
Leonardo has corrected the errors in Vitruvius’s measurements based on his own findings. The square and the circle in Leonard’s drawing do not fit neatly into each other removing the need for the distortions of the Vitruvius model. Vitruvius states that the centre of the body is the navel, but Leonardo's sketch shows that this depends on the position of the arms and legs, and when the figure is in the standing position, the centre of gravity is actually lower than the navel.
Many artists of the Renaissance studied the proportions of the human body using this knowledge in their work although none had dedicated so much thought and detailed attention to the subject as Leonardo. The woodcut by the Milanese surveyor Cesare Cesariano is a well-known failed attempt at realising the measurements of Vitruvius.
This worldwide icon is used in various forms in the modern world and is closely associated with the medical profession. It has been used as a symbol for rock bands, NASA, and the Euro.
Many theories abound about this work, secret meanings and a whole industry based on The Da Vinci Code (a work of fiction but a great read) and astrological and mystical interpretations of the sketch.
I confess I don't know if any of these are factual but I prefer to view the work for what it is, a geometrical study that has stood the test of time. The drawing fascinates us and is the product of a Renaissance artist, scientist, mathematician, inventor, anatomist and engineer.
Enjoy it, Leonardo, what a guy!