Louisville Medicine Volume 67, Issue 10 | Page 16

INTERSECTION OF DESIGN & MEDICINE THE VITRUVIA N M AUTHOR John D avid K olte r, M A N D P erhaps the best-known intersection of design and medicine, and an ob- vious starting point for a discussion of this intersection, is Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.” Complet- ed around 1490, the ink on paper drawing represents a human male in two superimposed positions, one in- scribed in a circle and one inscribed in a square. The drawing is a study in proportion and form. The original drawing is accompa- nied with notes from Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, the well-known Ro- man architect and author of De Architectura. Indeed, the instruc- tions for the “Vitruvian Man” were provided, without drawings, in Book III of De Architectura. ‘Then again, in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man can be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circum- ference 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. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height, as in the case of plane surfaces which are completely square.’ (Marcus Vitruvius, De Architectura, Book III, Chapter 1, p 3) 14 LOUISVILLE MEDICINE Given the instructions provided almost 1,500 years prior to his birth, it is not surprising that da Vinci was not the first artist to attempt a drawing of the Vitruvian man. However, da Vinci made keen observations in creating his famous version noting: ‘If you open the legs so as to reduce the stature by one-fourteenth and open and raise your arms so that your middle fingers touch the line through the top of the head, know that the centre of the extrem- ities of the outspread limbs will be the umbilicus, and the space be- tween the legs will make an equilateral triangle.’ (Accademia, Ven- ice).  The Vitruvian Man, a study in order and ‘divine design’, be- came a cornerstone of Italian Renaissance design and architecture. Structures of the time were often designed based on proportions and profiles of the human form. Over time, the Vitruvian Man has taken on many symbolic embodiments, and the associated geo- metric forms have been given various interpretations across dis- ciplines. In the realm of medicine, we can see the Vitruvian Man symbolically and tangibly as art, science and humanitarianism in harmony: the three endeavors that we physicians practice and seek to master. References: Source: Stanford University: Leonardodavinci.stanford.edu Encyclopedia Bri- tannica Online Dr. Kolter is a practicing internist with Baptist Health.