The Vitruvian Man (Italian: Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio, which is translated to "The proportions of the human body according to Vitruvius"), or simply L'Uomo Vitruviano , is a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci around 1490.[1] It is accompanied by notes based on the work of the architect Vitruvius. The drawing, which is in pen and 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 and text are sometimes called the Canon of Proportions or, less often, Proportions of Man. It is kept in the Gabinetto dei disegni e 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.

The drawing is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in Book III of his treatise De architectura. Vitruvius described the human figure as being the principal source of proportion among the classical orders of architecture. Vitruvius determined that the ideal body should be eight heads high. Leonardo's drawing is traditionally named in honor of the architect.



This image demonstrates the blend of mathematics and art during the Rinascimento and demonstrates Leonardo's deep understanding of proportion. In addition, this picture represents a cornerstone of Leonardo's attempts to relate man to nature. Encyclopaedia 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.

According to Leonardo's preview in the accompanying text, written in mirror writing, it was made as a study of the proportions of the (male) human body as described in Vitruvius. The text is in two parts, above[a] and below[b] the image.

The first paragraph of the upper part reports 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". The second paragraph reads: "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 itself 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".

Leonardo is clearly illustrating Vitruvius' 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.

Leonardo's drawing combines a careful reading of the ancient text with his own observation of actual human bodies. In drawing the circle and square he correctly observes that the square cannot have the same centre as the circle, the navel, but is somewhat lower in the anatomy. 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.

The drawing itself is often used as an implied symbol of the essential symmetry of the human body, and by extension, of the universe as a whole.

It may be noticed by examining the drawing that the combination of arm and leg positions actually 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.

The drawing was purchased from Gaudenzio de' Pagave by Giuseppe Bossi, who described, discussed and illustrated it in his monograph on Leonardo's The Last Supper, Del Cenacolo di Leonardo da Vinci libri quattro (1810).[8] 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.

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.


Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (April 15, 1452 -- May 2, 1519) was an Italian polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance man, a man whose unquenchable curiosity was equaled only by his powers of invention. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent and "his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote". Marco Rosci points out, however, that while there is much speculation about Leonardo, his vision of the world is essentially logical rather than mysterious, and that the empirical methods he employed were unusual for his time.

Born the illegitimate son of a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant woman, Caterina, at Vinci in the region of Florence, Leonardo was educated in the studio of the renowned Florentine painter, Verrocchio. Much of his earlier working life was spent in the service of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna and Venice and spent his last years in France, at the home awarded him by Francis I.

Leonardo was and is renowned primarily as a painter. Among his works, the Mona Lisa is most famous and most parodied portrait and The Last Supper the most reproduced religious painting of all time, with their fame approached only by Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. Leonardo's drawing of the Vitruvian Man is also regarded as a cultural icon, being reproduced on everything from the euro to text books to t-shirts. Perhaps fifteen of his paintings survive, the small number due to his constant, and frequently disastrous, experimentation with new techniques, and his chronic procrastination. Nevertheless, these few works, together with his notebooks, which contain drawings, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting, compose a contribution to later generations of artists only rivalled by that of his contemporary, Michelangelo.

Leonardo is revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualised a helicopter, a tank, concentrated solar power, a calculator, the double hull and outlined a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or were even feasible during his lifetime, but some of his smaller inventions, such as an automated bobbin winder and a machine for testing the tensile strength of wire, entered the world of manufacturing unheralded. As a scientist, he greatly advanced the state of knowledge in the fields of anatomy, civil engineering, optics, and hydrodynamics.