Section 3 - Case Studies: Anatomy seen through the lens of architectural drafting
Figure 1 – Leonardo da Vinci, Heroic Nudes (anatomy and static and dynamic equilibrium) and a battle scene, 1503-6, Red chalk and pen and ink, 16 x 15.3 cm, Windsor Castle, Royal Collection Trust
(Image taken from web).
In a drawing from 1503-6 titled Heroic Nudes (anatomy and static and dynamic equilibrium) and a battle scene (fig. 1), da Vinci shows a standing figure and the inside view of a leg with a plumb line drawn from the front of the pelvis to the toes. In the full figure, a center of balance is also indicated by showing a vertical plumb line drawn through the central axis of the hip (roughly over the great trochanter of the femur). Should the figure move off of this line either forward or backward, it is assumed that movement would occur. Important here is the idea that da Vinci is studying dynamics, or thinking the potential of transformative qualities, and not simply depicting a static position. This analysis of weight gives insight to da Vinci's interest in anatomy as a tool for critical thinking regarding the structure, composition, and balance of the figure and its component parts (and not that of shading/studying only the external/phenomenal qualities). For da Vinci, the human body is governed by geometric rules branching to all systems (vessels, lungs, muscles, etc.), all of which have dynamic/animated force. By thinking more predominantly of the dynamic weight and balance created between the parts of the figure, we are able to make a cursory comparison to the analytical thinking required in the critical act of organizing weight in building, and understanding the problems inherent within.
Figure 2 - Leonardo da Vinci, The human cranium sectioned, 1489, Windsor Castle, Royal Collection Trust
(Image taken from web).
To push this idea further, in da Vinci's drawing The human cranium sectioned (fig. 2), a three-quarter, top view of a skull is shown with the inside of the cranium visible. In this study of the skull, we can see da Vinci using methods of perspective as crucial tools in representing the “cut away” view. Da Vinci shows the cranial mass sectioned with the outermost quarter removed, exposing the interior.
Figure 3 - Studies of the Leg, c. 1485-90, Pen and ink over metalpoint, on pale blue prepared paper, 22.2 x 29.0 cm , Royal Collection Trust (Image taken from web)
A similar method is used in his Studies of the leg (fig.3), showing the lateral view of a right leg. Of specific interest in this study is the sectioned pieces separated to show the varying widths of the leg. One area (mid-thigh) is then moved to the side to show the thickness of the varied muscle groups contained within. Notice here the top-down view of the leg, and the way it resembles an elevation or floor plan. While these first two examples do not show an exact architectural crossover, they do show a willingness to treat the figure in the exact same way, using the same tools of representation (perspective, changing angles, consideration of inside and outside space).
Before moving to a discussion of the more anthropomorphic examples of anatomy and architecture, I would like to introduce one more artist essential to the discussion of visualizing proportions, anatomy, and the architectural design of the figure during the Renaissance: Albrecht Dürer.
Albrecht Dürer, a German artist working in Northern Europe, was greatly influenced by Leonardo Da Vinci as well by the writings of Vitruvius. Dürer makes this connection clear, stating:
As regards any discussion on building, or of its elements, I believe none among our eminent capimaestri or artisans have overlooked how the ancient Roman author Vitruvius wrote so splendidly in his books regarding the decoration of architecture: his example is a lesson to us all.
Dürer’s text on the proportions of the figure was published in 1528. Prior to this, he authored books on the applications of geometry and a treatise on fortifications. Dürer ‘s motivations in studying a wide range of body types, genders, and varying shapes and sizes of individual parts was an attempt to prove that art was founded on a determinate set of rules. To this point, and still building off the thoughts of Vitruvius, Dürer states:
That master of the ancient world Vitruvius, architect of the grandiose building in Rome, states that he who intends to build should conform to human beauty, because the body conceals the arcane secrets of proportion. Hence, before discussing buildings, I intend to explain the form of a well-built man, and then a woman, a child, and a horse. In this way you will acquire an approximate measure of all things about you.
The key term in Dürer’s comment is "well-built man." Following in Vitruvius's footsteps, Dürer regards man as architectural form. While Dürer wasn’t as concerned with the interior anatomy and dissection as da Vinci, his thinking shows a complete geometric and projective system for the representation of the human body. Dürer also provides an incredible range of perspective positions and views.
Figure 4 - Albrecht Durer, Stereometric Man; thirteen cross-sections of the body, c. 1523, pen and ink, 11.5 x 8 in., Nuremberg, Germany, National Museum (image taken from web).
Specifically, Dürer’s Stereometric man with thirteen cross-sections of the body (fig. 4) shows a figure built entirely from planar cubes and or boxes. With the figure holding its weight on the right leg, a clear contrapposto position is held. Surrounding the figure within the margins and surrounding space are thirteen different elevation plans/views of the figure taken from top to bottom. This ground plan or project of the figure cut at various moments shows the body as if it were a blueprint with the same technical vocabulary as the architect.
Figure 5 – Albrecht Durer, Stereometric man, front view, profile and ground plan, c. 1519, pen and ink, 11.5 x 8.5 in.
An additional example titled Stereometric man with front view, profile and ground plan (fig. 5) dissolves the figure even further in architectural abstraction, leaving it only legible as an abstracted mannequin. Where da Vinci, in the initial drawings discussed, begins to view anatomical parts and pieces through the lens of geometric perspective (with a nod to architectural techniques), Dürer goes beyond to understand the figure as a pure subject of architecture, presenting the body, in total, as a geometric assemblage.
In the above examples, Dürer shows the figure as a series of “ground plan” views as well as a coordinated set of parallel projections and cross sections, presenting an interpretation of the figure as something constructed with mechanical instruments in strict planar terms. In these cases, Dürer’s figures shrink from having human detail so entirely that they essentially dissolve into some hybrid form of human structures. While lacking some of the eloquence in design and realization that da Vinci's sketches clearly possess, Dürer still provides an example of this shared form language that is also used by Leonardo da Vinci.
Section 3 – Mental Sculpture: Case studies in the plastic molding of geometries from the figure to architecture, or instances where abstraction gives way to the figure blending into architectural motifs.
With the above in mind, I will end with a few more examples that show a more developed design at work illustrating the transformative language shared between anatomy and architecture. In building to this point, my goal has been to establish a foundation (both in philosophy, process, and practice) for the potential for anatomy to be seen as synced to that of an architectural tradition. With that foundation in mind, I will isolate more anthropomorphic examples that express more clearly this dissolve or blend between the two.
Figure 6 Leonardo da Vinci
In fig. 6, Leonardo da Vinci shows a dissection of the skull, neck, and throat paired alongside plans for columns. It appears that in this image, da Vinci has used the proportions of the hyoid bone, throat, and surrounding cartilage as a departure point for the columns shown to the right. Should this indeed be the case, we can examine this as a consideration of the macro idea of proportion and harmony aimed at a very small/micro design hidden within the surface contours of the neck. While this image very clearly shows a shared thought existing between the two, it also alludes to the transformative aspects and potential mental sculpting which may be taking place, as the mass and proportion of the throat gradually resolves into the solid cylindrical mass of the column on the right.
Figure 7 – Leonardo da Vinci, The muscles of the shoulder and arm, and the bones of the foot, c.1510-11, pen and ink with wash, over black chalk, 28.9x20.1 cm, Royal Collection Trust (image taken from web)
In the same spirit as above, Anatomical studies of the shoulder region (fig. 7) shows da Vinci's extremely elegant and concise anatomical drawings/dissection of the arms, shoulder, as well as the bones of the foot. My specific interest here is in the top of the arms pictured in the center of the image showing the external anatomy (deltoid) removed. Da Vinci here has focused on the intricate structure of tendons and muscles connecting the rib cage/scapula into the top of the humerus. Surprisingly, this extremely complicated transition isn’t at all busy or convoluted in appearance. Rather, a very clear and orderly progression of rounded triangular and square shapes design a progression of negative shapes between the connecting muscles.
Figure 8 – Leonardo da Vinci, Studies for the tiburio of Milan Cathedra, c. 1487, ink, 28.2x23.7 cm, Codex Atlanticus, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, folio 851, Milan, Italy.
When compared to the accompanying sketch Studies for the tiburio of Milan Cathedral (fig. 8), there appears to be a great deal of formal similarity. Here da Vinci is studying, or perhaps searching for, a solution to the tiburio, or crossing tower, of the cathedral at Milan. If flipped, the previous sketch would match perfectly in shape. The tiburio study shows a very similar shape and design, and leads one to imagine that the shoulder has been abstracted into a usable language of form/function.
Fig. 9 Leonardo da Vinci, Studies for lantern of cathedral, 1478-90, red and sepia ink, The Codex Trivulzianus, folio 22, page 41. (Image taken from web)
Lastly, in Studies for lantern of cathedral (fig. 9), da Vinci shows what looks to be a simplified design for a rib cage in the top right corner of the image. The flat dome or egg shape is shown with a line down the middle and an opening at the bottom. Looking at this shape with an eye towards anatomical dissections, we could easily understand this as an exact diagram for the rib cage - the line down the center being the sternum, and the opening at the bottom being the thoracic arch (or separation at the tenth rib). The fascinating aspect to this image is the almost animated way in which this form moves from the top right, down, and into the bottom left. As this rib cage shape moves from the top right down, it begins to take on a more dimensional appearance, becoming more volumetric. It is almost as if we can see da Vinci's mental sculpting in process, as the mass of the rib cage slowly transforms into the top of the Milan cathedral. The volumes shown moving down from the top right (second and third drawing shown from beneath) appear to have a consistent geometric volume to that of the rib cage. As it moves further, what once appears to have been a rib cage, takes place at the top of a centrally planned cathedral as its dome. Around the margins of this drawing are variations of this shape showing potential iterations as options. If this is in fact an accurate description of what is happening within da Vinci's sketch, then we are able to see a completely fluid practice of anatomy becoming architecture or vice versa. While this will end my survey of da Vinci's work and thought, I will continue in the next (and last post) with two examples from Michelangelo. While my intention has not been to relate all of the above ideas directly to da Vinci alone, he does stand as an exemplary example of this practice, creating a clear model through which a number of artists might be more easily studied.