Mystery and Excellence on The Human Body - An Artist's View Of The Human Body Introduction

An Artist's View Of The Human Body Introduction

Leonardo's drawing: human proportions

An Artist's View Of The Human Body Introduction

An Artist's View Of The Human Body Introduction

An Artist's View


the Human Body


The Renaissance is the period of European history which is marked by  a break with the Middle Ages. Renaissance means re-birth. The first  people to speak of the birth of a new and luminous age, who saw the  previous period, the Middle Ages, as Dark Ages, were the Italians.  While the Middle Ages had lived strongly and with a sort of sombre  force, but always under the burden of an obligation to aspire through  suffering to a beyond, in Italy a new confidence, a new optimism was  born: the Renaissance was an enthusiastic discovery of joy and beauty  in every aspect of life. Inspired by the rediscovery of ancient Greek and  Roman manuscripts, by the finding of antique statues, by their passion ate study of ancient "pagan" civilizations, the Italians aspired to free  themselves from the burden of the Middle Ages. They looked at life in a  new way, and they loved it; it had lost its taint of sin. And this finding  reawakened in them the passionate curiosity of the Greeks; they eagerly turned to study nature, observe natural phenomena and search for  rational laws; they began to take delight in the intellectual scrutiny of  the facts of life.

Artists were at the forefront of this movement. They too aspired to  break from the conventionalism of previous ages. They sought to explore  nature directly, without the interference of a pre-conceived philosophy  or religious symbolism, without having to refer to past authorities.

Of all the things to be represented, the human figure seemed to them  the noblest subject for their art. They were fascinated not only by all

An Artist's View Of The Human Body Introduction

An Artist's View Of The Human Body Introduction

that can be expressed by the body, but also by the complexity of the  physical body itself. It looked to them like a wonderful universe to be  explored; and they thought that they could not praise God better than  by trying to represent the body as accurately as possible. So these men  looked at the human body not only as artists would do, searching for  beauty and harmony, but also as scientists would, with the desire for  knowledge that a person devoted to science can bring. As a matter of  fact, many of these painters and sculptors were also scientists. Some  took advantage of the discoveries in anatomy made at the time, but  some others like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo themselves per formed dozens of dissections, studying each muscle, each nerve and  sinew. They ceaselessly observed human bodies in motion and studied  the way they walk, they sit, they bend, which muscle is used for which  movement, which part of the body rests when another is at work, the  proportions between the different limbs, etc.

Painters as well as sculptors had been very enthusiastic about some  Greek sculptures that had been recently unearthed in Rome. They also  felt the urge to depict nude bodies, and even when the body was hidden  by draperies, they wanted the anatomy of the body to show under the  folds of the clothes.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519),who lived towards the end of the  Italian Renaissance, was a perfect example of this new kind of artist  who combined imaginative sensitivity and a scientific spirit of enquiry.  "Those who devote themselves to practice without science are like  sailors who put to sea without rudder or compass and who can never  be certain where they are going." This is one amongst the many notes  written by Leonardo with the intention of publishing a Treatise on  Painting.

Leonardo felt that the human body is a complex unity within the larger field of nature, a microcosm wherein the elements and the powers of  the universe were incorporated. In order to study its structure, Leonardo  dissected corpses and examined bones, joints, and muscles separately  and in relation to one another, making drawings from many angles and  taking recourse to visual demonstration since an adequate description  could not be given in words. According to him, such visual demonstrations gave "complete and accurate conceptions of the various shapes  such as neither ancient nor modern writers have ever been able to give  without an infinitely tedious and confused prolixity of writing and of

An Artist's View Of The Human Body Introduction

An Artist's View Of The Human Body Introduction

time." Moreover, there are not only the various angles, the infinity of  aspects to be considered, there are also the continuous successions of  phases in movements. The circular movements of shoulder, arm and  hand, for instance, is suggestive of a pictorial continuity such as we may  see on a strip of a film.

The study of structure included that of function, of the manner in  which actions and gestures were performed, how the various muscles  work together in bending and straightening the joints, how the weight  of a body is supported and balanced. Leonardo looked upon anatomy  also with the eye of a mechanical engineer. Each limb, each organ was  believed to be designed and perfectly adapted to perform its special  function. Thus the muscles of the tongue were made to produce innumerable sounds within the mouth enabling man to pronounce many  languages. In his time divisions between the various branches of  anatomy did not exist. He investigated problems of physiology and  embryology, and he also studied the systems of nerves and arteries and  other aspects of the body. He anticipated the principle of blood circulation and prepared the ground for further analyses on many subjects.

We present here a few extracts from Leonardo's notebooks which  testify to his unquenchable curiosity for the wonderful human body.

Leonardo's drawing: the anatomy of the thigh on flexion at the knee


An Artist's View Of The Human Body Introduction

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