Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man by Mary Elizabeth Podles

A THOUSAND WORDS
Mary Elizabeth Podles on Christian Art

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

Today’s column revisits an old friend, known to us from a thousand coffee cups and mouse pads, Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Like a Coca-Cola sign, so familiar is he that we no longer actually read him but jump ahead to the next association: mental stimulation (coffee cup), brilliant thoughts at our fingertips (mouse pad), and so on. Poor Man! Surely that was not the fate Leonardo had in mind when he so carefully inscribed you in his notes. For Leonardo, the illustrated Man was the distillation of his studies of human anatomy as an artist, a scientist, and a philosopher, in an age when the three were not so separate as they might be today.

By fitting the human figure in both a circle and a square, Leonardo set out to demonstrate that the ideal human proportions correspond to the two ideal geometric figures. The correlation between geometry and the human form was by no means new. In antiquity, the geometry of human proportion was the basis of architectural proportion, and the ideal building was a reflection of the geometry of the ideal man, or rather, was man writ large. That is why we still feel comfortable in architecture based on Classical principles: each part of the whole relates to our own proportions, no matter how grand the scale.

THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:


Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

Online
Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.


more on art from the online archives

32.4—July/August 2019

Sojourner Knight

on Single-Mindedness in Durer's Ritter, Tod, und Teufel by Anthony Costello

30.3—May/June 2017

St. Luke the Evangelist

by Mary Elizabeth Podles

33.2—March/April 2020

Christ Chapel at Hillsdale

An Architectural Sign of Mere Christianity by Michael Ward


more from the online archives

33.4—July/August 2020

No Option

Clear Out the Rubble & Rebuild! by Anthony Esolen

32.1—January/February 2019

Surprised by Delight

Divine Love & the Love of Man & Woman Surpass Mere Consent by Anthony Esolen

32.6—November/December 2019

Listening Up

Historical Truth, Beguiling Stories & Three Kinds of Hearers by Anthony Esolen

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

00