No. 35 – Renaissance Man

Vitruvian Man (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy) image: Luc Viatour

Henry Flint’s prog 1727 (2011) Shakara[1] cover v Leonardo [di ser Piero] da Vinci’s (1452–1519) Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio [Italian: The proportions of the human body according to Vitruvius, or more commonly Vitruvian Man] (c.1490)

Vitruvian Man is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry, as described by the ancient Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (c. 80–70 BC–c. 15 BC) in Book III of his treatise De architectura (c. 30–15 BC). Da Vinci likely had some help on this one from his mate Iacomo Andrea [aka Giacomo Andrea de Ferrara] (unknown–1500), Renaissance architect and Vitruvius fanboy.

As well as painting the The Last Supper [Italian: L’Ultima Cena] (1490s) and the Mona Lisa [Italian: La Gioconda] (c. 1503–1506, perhaps continuing until c. 1517) – the most parodied painting in history, which is bound to show up here sooner or later – Da Vinci is regarded as the original and archetypal Renaissance[2] Man, whose interests encompassed history, invention, sculpture, music, literature, architecture, engineering, physics, mathematics, anatomy, botany, geology, astronomy and cartography.

Da Vinci is also accredited as the father of palaeontology, ichnology[3] and – quite literally as we were polishing this entry for publication on Twitter we heard on BBC Radio 4’s The Five Faces of Leonardo: Leonardo’s Robotics – according to robotics engineer Mark Rosheim, he’s pretty much the father of that, too, conveniently providing the sci-fi link.


  1. Series co-created and written by Robbie Morrison
  2. French, lit. “rebirth”; the Renaissance (14th–17th centuries) was a dramatic reappraisal and application of classical Greek and Roman art, aesthetics and philosophy, that is considered a milestone in the development of modern European civilisation
  3. The study of fossil traces; geological evidence of fossils, rather than specifically fossils