The secrets of the Vitruvian Man

Leonardo Da Vinci's illustration, known as "Vitruvian Man" is one of those universal images that are a part of our collective consciousness. The drawing is trapped inside a circle and square but other than the fact that the width of his outstretched arms equals his height, what do we really know about him? This image has a fascinating story that tells us much about the genius of its author, Leonardo da Vinci.

Da Vinci drew "Vitruvian Man" around the year 1490. Most people are familiar with Da Vinci's drawing. They have seen it used in many varied contexts from film titles to advertising, and for the lucky recently displayed in the Louvre. At the time Da Vinci drew it however he was attempting to illustrate the idea, set down by Vitruvius in the Ten Books, that the human body can be made to fit inside a circle and a square.

"It is a saga of grand proportions, spanning centuries, continents and disciplines, in which people and events and ideas tumble into and out of view."

He is named after Vitruvius, an architect in first-century Rome who believed that a building with the correct proportions should be based on the dimensions of the human body. Da Vinci was not the only artist to interpret Vitruvius; his drawing is the most famous. The human body was not designed according to the principles of the ancient governing world; it was believed to be the world in miniature.

The ancient thinkers had believed that the circle and the square possessed symbolic powers. But if one was to draw this man, what would he look like? Vitruvius had not provided any illustrations. Until the late 1400s, nobody had attempted to work out the proportions and how they might be represented inside a circle and a square.

Nobody knows for sure who posed for the sketch, but it has been suggested that it might have been a self-portrait.

Check out Canvas Prints of this iconic drawing.


Lester, T 2012, 'The Other Man', Smithsonian, vol. 42, no. 10, p. 6, viewed 5 May 2020, <>.

Da Vincis Ghost | Toby Lester | download.

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