Friday, November 09, 2007

The famous figure of Vitruvian man, for instance, splayed out in his encircled square, is in origin a derivative illustration of an antique idea about regular proportions: a man’s proportions when the arms are horizontal make a square; with the arms diagonal they center a circle. Though it is possible to see this as a “humanist” ideal, it is not necessarily so; it says not that man’s proportions are divine but merely that they are regular. The point of the image is not that man is the measure of all things; it is that man can, like all things, be measured. But the tension between this abstract and diminishing idea and its realization as a strange, aged, specific figure, with a strong, unostentatious but perfect body and a grave, unforgettable face—half Don Imus, half St. Jerome; Nicholl suggests that it is a self-portrait—gives the image a certain heroism, as though the individual had stoically lent himself for a scientific trial.

Adam Gopnik

No comments: