Human Proportions in Architecture

3304 words 14 pages
‘After having considered the right arrangement of the human body, the ancients proportioned all their work, particularly the temples, in accordance with it’.
To what extent does the human body influence architectural forms and writing from antiquity to 1600?
The study of the human body has spanned centuries, from the mathematicians of antiquity to the humanist scholars of the High Renaissance, and parallels between the bodily proportions and architecture have played their part in some of the most celebrated architectural feats. Writers and architects throughout this period never ceased in exploring the various ways in which the ‘arrangement of the human body’ could be applied to architecture, from associations with the Golden
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Therefore, in terms of their utilisation of the Golden
Section, it does not appear that the architecture of the ancient Greeks was strongly influenced by the human body.
Yet, when returning to Vitruvius, another example of the human body influencing architectural forms and writing is introduced. In Book III of his Ten Books of
Architecture he confronts us with the fact that man, when “placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centred at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle and described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it.”3 The importance of this discovery to the scholars of antiquity, that man could fit into the two most perfect geometric units, was immense, as it was thought to reveal a fundamental truth about man and the world. In light of the earlier notion of the microcosm-macrocosm, it becomes clear why

Vitruvius, Book III of his Ten Books of Architecture, quoted in R. Wittkower,
Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanisn, (London : Academy Editions, 1973)

Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture, Book III.

architects and theorists were keen to emulate the square and circular forms, as derived from the human body, within their work. Within ancient Rome there are few


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