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The Vitruvian Man: A Human Sketch That Unified Science & Art

Updated: Apr 27

Vitruvian Man by artist Leonardo da Vinci
Source: Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes I think we humans are the most complicated species, yet beautiful and well-proportionate. Have you ever thought of the symmetry of your body? No, I am not speaking about the perfect six-pack abs or the round bounties but somewhat about the anthropometry. The original nature of our body is beyond our vision sometimes. Think of it as a fusion of nature's balance and symmetrical shape. I do not intend to confuse you in any way but rather to make you think deeply. From the earlier depictions of humans from the caves and sculptures, we know that as we evolved to this era, our features and symmetry tempted us. Today I am here to discuss with you an artwork featuring the iconic image of a male's body proportion. It is none other but The Vitruvian Man By Leonardo da Vinci. By the end of the article, you will know about drawing, but you will feel that our bodies reflect the fusion of science and art. Before we directly examine the artist's painting, let us know about him in a few sentences.

About The Artist: Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Polymath, artist, engineer, musician, mathematician, architect and sculptor. He was born in 1452 at Vinci in the reign of Florence, where he was educated in the studio of the famous Florentine painter Verrocchio. A Renaissance man, his abilities as an inventor equalled those of his curiosities. Two of his works, Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, impacted the revolution of art and became the most reproduced and parodied portrait and religious paintings of all time. Nothing I can do but get goosebumps each time I look at them.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper | Source: Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Unretouched image of Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa (Unretouched, darker) | Source: Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The constant and frequent disastrous experiments with new techniques led to only 15 of his paintings surviving until this day. Undoubtedly, his compositions remained mystical and way ahead of time.

Now that you know his brief life, let us move forward with learning about the Vitruvian Man.

Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci
Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci (from Characaturas by Leonardo da Vinci, from Drawings by Wincelslaus Hollar, out of the Portland Museum) 1786 | Source:

History And Background Of Leonardo da Vinci Viruvian Man.

The artwork remains in the Gallerie dell’ Accademia in Venice. It is an execution of art carefully implemented through quantitative design parameters, which is famous among the artists and architects community.

Who Was Vitruvius And How Is He Important?

When we go on researching through the pages of history about the Vitruvian man, we come across the Ten Books on architecture (CA. 25 BC) written by the Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius. He stated that the naval is at the centre of the human body. He further said,

"For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compass 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."

This statement holds the basis of the sketch of the Vitruvian man that Leonardo produced.

Portrait Of Roman Architect Vitruvius
Source: Fineartamerica

If we go on studying further sketches of the Vitruvian Man, we will find numerous depictions of human proportions from many other artists. You may be able to view them at the Windsor Royal Collection (England) with the date of attribution of the sketches Vitruvian man with a title, Proportions of the human body, according to Vitruvius.

Diagram Of Man's Proportions From Vitruvius Translation
Diagram Of Man's Proportions From Vitruvius Translation | Source: Deutsche Fotothek, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

What Da Vinci Did Differently From Vitruvius?

If you look at the earlier records of da Vinci's studies that started around 1487, you will see that he produced sketches as per the Vitruvius study, sometimes questioning the validity. He worked for more than 20 years and then finally formed the final drawing- Vitruvian Man.

There is a remarkable point to notice that Leonardo used the foot as the reference parameter of the relative proportions; of the human face and hand.

Now it is almost time to learn about the difference that Vinci created from the theory of Vitruvius.

In his later drawings, he used a square concentric with a circle to depict the two postures of the man. By separating the two centres of two figures, a circle centred at the navel and a square centred at the pubic bone, he resolved the dilemma. Furthermore, he depicted the two male postures in a single diagram, taking reflection on a scientific basis. As a result of his observation of the man kneeling in this image, he was able to locate the mark at the torso at 3/4 of the body length and the knee cap at 1/4, whereas the sitting man may have identified the midpoint at the pubic bone.

Leonardo studies of human proportions and movements
Left: Extracts from Leonardo’s studies on human proportions. Top: Proportions of the face and the eye (c.1489/1490) Biblioteca Reale of Turin (Italy) Inv.15574 DC recto. Middle: Sagittal section of the skull (1489), Windsor castle RL 19057r . Proportions of body relative to each other (1490) RL 19130v. Bottom: Proportion of the foot (1490) Windsor castle RL1931v and part of 1933r. Right Top: Extracts from Studies of the Face, Legs and Arm (1487) Windsor Castle R L 19140r; Bottom: Studies of the Proportions of the Body when Standing, Kneeling and Sitting (c. 1487), Windsor Castle RL 19132r Source: Leno Liberato Mascia / Research Gate

Looking mathematically, when a square with side h and a circle with radius r adds to the standing man posture, the ratio of h/r comes between 1.70 to 1.72. Note that it is significantly higher than the range of Leonardo's sketch, which was 1.64 to 1.65. It simply means that Vitruvius was based on inaccurate measurements or approximations.

Vitruvian Man Meaning.

Before we go to the actual conclusions of the sketch, let us examine the writing translation from the artist's painting.

The above text means,

"Vitruvius, the architect, says in his architectural work that the measurements of man are in nature distributed in this manner, that is 4 fingers make a palm, 4 palms make a foot, 6 palms make a cubit, 4 cubits make a man, 4 cubits make a footstep, 24 palms make a man and these measures are in his buildings. If you open your legs enough that your head is lowered by 1/14 of your height and raise your arms enough that your extended fingers touch the line of the top of your head, let you know that the centre of the ends of the open limbs will be the navel, and the space between the legs will be an equilateral triangle."

And the later means-

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

If you are unable to understand, Kindly refer to the image below that has all the conclusions.

 Summary and abstract of the findings from studies on proportions of the human body
Source: Leno Liberato Mascia / Research Gate

Formal Analysis Of The Vitruvian Man.


Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci

Year Painted

c. 1490


Drawing (Ink on paper)



34.4 cm × 24.5 cm


Priceless, Not on sale

Where is it housed?

Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Now that you understand the basis of the drawing, the formal analysis is not really a strenuous task.

The sketch comprises a male body, which is superimposed and has different postures. From other sketches, we know that the earlier versions from other artists have one body depiction. In contrast, Vinci drew two postures, one with feet together and arms outstretched with the side of the square, the other with a cross body and spread-eagle arms. The first posture of the man touches the sides of the square, whereas the other one taps the circumference of the circle. Now that we talk about the shapes, he did the face figures and male body meticulously too. There is autonomous correctness of the man from all the body parts and well-defined muscles. His hair and face give a furious look.

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci
Source: Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The author and historian Toby Lester describes the image as being a self-portrait by da Vinci, described in his book, da Vinci's Ghost (2012) saying,

"idealized self-portrait in which Leonardo, stripped down to his essence, takes his own measure."

The artwork also has the texts in da Vinci's handwriting that we have already examined in the meaning part. Without delay, let us move on to the colour analysis of the sketch.

Colour Analysis Of The Vitruvian Man.

Though it looks simple, it is definitely not. When you see the man, he is neatly drawn with an ink pen. In the sketch, he added some meticulous shading, like in his hair and armpit area, which gives it a realistic look.

A close look of The Vitruvian Man showing shading around the face, hair and armpits
A close look of The Vitruvian Man | Source: Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Examine The Perspective Of Shapes Inside The Sketch.

Vitruvian Distance Scale
Source: Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

How Often Is Vitruvian Man Exhibited?

The renaissance sketch, Vitruvian Man is among the most crucial yet fragile artworks in the possession of the Italian government. Because of its fragility, it can not withstand direct sunlight; and therefore followed a strict timeline that limited its appearance to only a few weeks every six years. However, a timeline revision appeared during the last auction (2019), according to which it will now be presented after ten years.

Calculating the same, da Vinci's masterpiece will appear in an exhibition no before 2029.


After Vitruvius stated that a man with his arms and legs outstretched can fit in a square and a circle, there were many furious attempts to fit the human body in a proportion so that arms and legs simultaneously touch both shapes, but they failed. It was legendary Leonardo who corrected his errors and found out his own findings through Vitruvian Man. We have already learned about the changes he did; we understand that it depends on the position of the hands and legs to fit any shape. He also determined that the centre of the body is not the navel, instead, CIG is lower than the navel.

By the way, do you believe that it is a self-portrait of Vinci that he made by lies on his back? Did you ever try tracing yourself and binding with shapes? If you did, let me know in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Why did Leonardo da Vinci create the Vitruvian Man?

The initial drawings of Vitruvian Man by Vinci were to illustrate the principles proposed by Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius. However, as the polymath spotted approximation in them, he worked for 20 years to conclude that the circumference varies with the man's posture and hence, fix the error in the previous study.

What is the Vitruvian principle?

Vitruvius proposed the idea that all buildings should have three attributes: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas meaning strength, utility, and beauty. It became one of the crucial findings in architecture that were later adopted by the Romans.

Does the Vitruvian Man have six arms?

The painting depicts a nude man standing within a circle and a square. It shows two different postures, four hands and four legs.

Who owns the Vitruvian Man?

The Vitruvian man is housed and owned by Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, Italy. In 1822, Giuseppe Bossi, an Italian painter studied the artwork to write a scholarship on it and sold it to the museum; since which, it has never been displaced and is occasionally available on public display.

Is the Vitruvian Man golden ratio?

Upon the analysis of The Vitruvian Man, it was found that the ratio of the radius of the circle to the side length of the square was supposed to be 137 / 225 = 0.6088... and not the golden ratio (1 / r) = (51/2 − 1) / 2 = 0.6180...

Is the Vitruvian Man Jesus?

According to the author and historian Toby Lester, the Vitruvian Man is the self-portray of Leonardo da Vinci.

How much does Vitruvian Man cost?

The Vitruvian Man is owned by Gallerie dell'Accademia since 1822 and is never going to an auction, making the art priceless.