Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man” ideal is not far from modern measures

More than five centuries ago, Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci produced a now famous image of what he saw as the perfectly proportioned male body: “the Vitruvian man”. This design is inspired by the thoughts of the first century AD Roman architect Vitruvius on the perfect human form.

64,000 men measured: perfect proportions are close

Today, the work of American scientists, which consisted of scanning the bodies of nearly 64,000 young men (and a few women) in great shape using advanced techniques, shows that Leonardo came close to very close to the anatomical measurements collected today.
“Despite the different samples and calculation methods, Leonardo da Vinci’s ideal human body and the proportions obtained with contemporary measurements are similar,” reports a team led by Diana Thomas, a mathematician at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY.
“The Vitruvian Man” is an iconic drawing by Leonardo from 1490 in which an adult man stands with his legs together and then apart, inside a circle and a square whose edges end in the head , hands and feet outstretched. It is intended to represent the ideal adult male body.

3D body scanner close to Leonardo’s drawing

But how close did Leonardo come to reality? To find out, Professor Thomas and his colleagues subjected thousands of US Air Force recruits, aged 17 to 21, to a high-tech 3D body scanner to determine average measurements. For good measure, a separate sample of nearly 1,400 female recruits was also scanned. The artist did not, however, produce a “Vitruvian woman”.

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The results ? With the exception of arm span and thigh length, the differences in proportions between the men measured by the body scanner and the ‘Vitruvian Man’ were within 10%,” the researchers said. West Point. “The arm span difference was 20% and the thigh height difference 29% greater than for the Vitruvian Man.

This means that when placed inside the circle and perfect squares created by Leonardo, the fingers and toes of today’s “ideal” man slightly exceed these limits.
Nevertheless, Thomas’ group gave some slack to the genius of the Renaissance, noting that in the 15th century scientific calculations of population averages simply did not exist, and that measurements by Tuscan men could very well differ from those of young American men today. It is not even clear which reference measurement points on the male body Leonardo was working with.

Yet despite all of this, “close agreement” was found between images created 500 years ago by one man, and those created in 2020 by much more complex scientific analysis, Thomas and his colleagues said.

The study was published June 9 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


Diana M. Thomas et al. Revisiting Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man Using Contemporary Measurements, JAMA (2020). DOI: 10.1001/jama.2020.3501. Journal of the American Medical Association


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