Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Thinking Gesture in figures and animals

Here is a short post on thinking gesture as it relates to not only people but animals as well.               

The focus of this post is to highlight an understanding of animal anatomy/drawing which will emphasize design. As always my hope is that the techniques used in drawing a figure are understood to be flexible and as such able to adapt to designing animals, characters, or creature(s).

Gesture drawing at its core entails the simple usage of line (shape, value, etc.) to capture a very complex reality about the subject being depicted. Specifically when using line, asymmetry and curves provide a visual pathway from which movement is exaggerated and the workings of passive and active anatomy develop (see below examples).

The intention of this is to build an understanding of how and in what ways, through gesture, figure(s) and animal(s) can be treated consistently. This is completely possible since through the process of abstraction, gesture highlights the same qualities in animals as it does it the figure. Further, for the purposes of drawing both animals and figures, gesture serves to initiate the image thematically/theatrically and lay the groundwork for the remainder of the drawings development.   

The drawing of animals and figures alike depend on a clear and purposeful idea to establish the integrity of that drawing as a instrument of communication – this could be a mood, emotion, narrative prompt, character/creature archetype, etc. Among other things, a gesture can allow for a more classical, studied interpretation of the natural design of the form. The latter will be the focus of our current study.

Figures and Animals can be compared within gesture by considering similarities in the following areas:

Story - (Idea!) The animal/figure should always become a vehicle for a establishing mood, emotion, expression, action, etc. I usually consider story to be concerned primarily with the narrative impact the drawing/design should take. 

Weight/Balance – Figures and animals alike need to feel as if they are drawn according to the influence of gravity. This is additionally an important theme in the construction/design of the 8 parts of each. A main difference is that figures are more of a vertical balancing act while many quadrupeds  show a variation on a bridge design.

Movement – An obvious and inherent quality to animals and figures. This becomes more important to analyze when studying the variety of animal types, qualities and types of movements, etc.

Proportion – the relative organization of the 8 parts

We might consider the act of making a gesture drawing the interpretation of these 4 categories as expressed through a rhythmic organization of the 8 major masses. Below is an image showing some basic differences (among the 8 parts) between the horse, big cat, and human. The goal in this initial survey is to understand the form entirely as the result of function.

Introduction to the Spine and differences between figure and animals

As the gesture is dependent on the positioning and or attitude between the 8 parts, this section will focus on the most important of the eight: the spine. Notice the varying lengths, height, and positioning between the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. 

The spine is the most important part to consider and where one should begin a study of comparative anatomy or gesture. What the spine allows us to understand is the inherent design of each anatomical form/machine. Each spine is built from the 3 groups – cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. However, each animal can have variation in these groups: through an increased number of vertebrae, angle, and or stability of the spine (bracing ligaments), etc. What is important to keep in mind is that the spine determines the kind of design we ultimately experience. An important principle, as it will allow us a technical constant in objectively analyzing a number of different types.

Gesture drawings begins with a studied interpretation of the spine, those qualities are then synthesized into asymmetrical rhythms. In the figure, the gesture begins with a very simple oval/sphere for the head and then moves from a line representing the cervical, through the thoracic, and finally into the lumbar. From this point the legs are integrated favoring the weight bearing side (if one exists) and lastly working into the arms. With this as a basic constant, an animal can be observed in the exact same sequence. Just remember to tailor the approach for variations to reflect unique differences such as direction of the spine, length of different parts of the spine, particular types of movements, etc.

Below is an example of the same sequence of lines used in a gesture drawing of a cat, horse, and human. See if you can match the lines used from one subject to the next to see the unity in the approach, but variation in describing types.

Notice when comparing the figure and horse the similarities resulting at this stage in the gesture. While the horse has the same 3 basic rhythms (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar) notice that the gesture has taken in to account the variations of those types by extending the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar as well as making this a horizontal passage. After establishing the torso, the rear legs are developed, beginning with the weight bearing side (if applicable), and then the forelegs.

Hopefully this helps in seeing continuity between these two subjects through a consistent approach to gesture. If you're interested in looking further into it, I might recommend checking out work by Joe Weatherly or Jonathan Kuo.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bernini study

Since seeing it in Rome I've been fascinated by Bernini's The Rape of Proserpina. Here are a few lecture images playing around with attempting to break down the space, movement, and composition from a few angles.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why should we care about construction? Part 5 - Conclusion

Hey All, this is the last entry for my brief investigation into the historical practices of construction. I think this is the last kind of historical survey I'll do for a while. Hopefully you found something of interest or thought provoking in it. Comments and thoughts are appreciated as always.

To provide one final example, I will consider a few of Michelangelo's sketches. Specifically, I'll be looking for examples of this transformative form language (discussed in prior posts) acting as a conduit between ideas of architecture and anatomy. 
Michelangelo’s relationship to anatomy stood in contrast to Da Vinci’s, being much more focused on the external anatomy or surface anatomy. While Michelangelo was involved and participated in anatomical dissections (some sources indicate three separate locations that Michelangelo practiced human dissections), his interest was more the design and variation of the surface anatomy, as well as its potential for movement.[1] In other words, Michelangelo may not have studied the internal muscles, organs, and deep tissue that Da Vinci was clearly preoccupied with. Michelangelo, while not making his thoughts widely available/clear on the subject, did write in a letter circa 1560 that "there is no question but that architectural members reflect the members of Man and that those who do not know the human body cannot be good architects."[2] This quote gives us another consistent view on the subject of the study of man and its benefit to the architect. Further, consistent themes from above are present, primarily the idea that architecture and anatomy are the result of the same learned process or form language. The achievement of this skill and/or artistic vision is what leads one to a superior sense of composition or design in architecture. This design is one which balances ideal forms or proportions while attempting to align the audience with a highly rational frame of mind. We might also be understand Michelangelo’s criticism of Antonio da Sangallo as one who may not have understood these design principles of the antique manner. As Sangallo was primarily an architect, and without the anatomical knowledge that Michelangelo possessed, may have lacked this greater sensitivity to design and too literally or didactically applied Vitruvian principles for Michelangelo’s tastes.

Fig. 1 Michelangelo, Design for Laurentian library door, c. 1526, pen and brown ink over stylus, 28.4x20.9cm, The British Museum.

Fig. 2 Michelangelo, Male Nude

Fig. 3 - Detail Comparison

To provide as example, I have paired Michelangelo’s Sketch of Doorway into Library (fig. 1), a study for the doorway/entrance into the Laurentian library (at San Lorenzo) next to that of an anatomical study of the front view of a male figure. The front view of the figure (fig. 2), specifically the torso, shows a striking similarity in shape, proportion, and design to that of Michelangelo’s doorway. The doorway almost mimics the proportion and design of the anatomy of the torso part for part (fig. 3). The curving arch above the doorway may be thought to mimic that of the trapezius, the proportion beneath and straight bar under, the design of the clavicle and pectoralis. On either side of the doorway stand columns that in size and proportion closely resemble the surface anatomy of the midsection, primarily that of the external obliques and serratus anterior. Lastly, the central opening in the doorway itself clearly reflects the proportion and overall shape design of abdominal wall (fig. 3). Like da Vinci’s rib cage transforming into a dome, Michelangelo has here used the abstracted proportion and design of the surface anatomy to inform his design of a doorway.

Fig. 4 - Michelangelo, bases of pillars for the New Sacristy, red chalk,1519-20.

My final example is a drawing of the bases of pillars for the New Sacristy (fig. 4). In this sketch, Michelangelo shows three columns at the base in profile. The last of the three deserves special interest as it appears to have an eye, nose, and mouth shown in profile. It appears as if Michelangelo has used a scream or dramatic expression in order to resolve his silhouette. In this final example, there is no extended transformation as both architectural motif and figure exist as one thing and seem to embody or be the other directly.  Once again, this speaks to his ability to have synthesized principles central to philosophies of antiquity with a geometric order through which those principles are made manifest. As the human figure continues to read as central to the architect's practice, it follows that this was the subject on which these principles are exercised and/or developed.
In conclusion, the study of anatomy stands as central concern to the practice of the Renaissance architecture. This is not exclusively the study of functional or even surface anatomy, but rather that of the design and proportion from which most everything else will be assessed and measured. It is my belief that the Renaissance artist/architect studied the figure primarily for this abstract exercise which when understood and distilled into a universal language of form, would then be applied as a compositional logic to that of architecture. I have shown anthropomorphic examples of large (domes/floor plans) to the smallest occurrences (doorways/colums), to highlight the point that what mattered most was the ability to see and think this abstraction and to not project a standardized plan or method. 

[1] Laurenza, 17.
[2] Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism: A study in the History of Taste (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914), 155.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why should we care about construction? Part 4

Section 3 - Case Studies: Anatomy seen through the lens of architectural drafting

Figure 1Leonardo 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
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.[1]

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.[2]

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.

[1] Ungers, 309.
[2] Ibid., 311.

Monday, August 24, 2015


Here are some skeleton diagrams from a lecture on landmarks and movement.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why should we care about construction? Part 3

Evolving a Form Language: Da Vinci, from the Vitruvian man to Dissections.
Using the above (first two entries) as a spring board or foundation to understand practices in Renaissance architecture, I'll now turn to specific instances where figures show this dissolve from anatomical study into  abstraction/concept, and architectural plan. Following this line of inquiry, it would be difficult to discuss Renaissance art without focusing on the practice of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo's anatomical studies were at the forefront of the evolution of anatomical thinking in the 15th and 16th centuries. He was associated with the anatomist Marcantonio della Torre, and had planned to write a book on the subject of human anatomy.[1]  While the practice of human dissection was closely controlled by ecclesiastical and civil rules (though not actually prohibited), dissections of criminals was sometimes possible. Through his dissections, Leonardo made important discoveries; the frontal sinus of the cranium, and the four cavities of the heart and its muscular nature were but a few among them. Da Vinci’s studies weren’t only devoted to that of humans -- his study of anatomy and proportions also extended to the animal realm. With Da Vinci, the study of anatomy became something very different than it had been earlier in the Renaissance. Where anatomy had once been the study of skeletal and muscle structure to facilitate the accurate representation of the nude figure, da Vinci's studies of anatomy intertwined with his ideas on physiognomy (or underlying essence/force to a figure and or expression), as well as his broader ideas on art. In other words, da Vinci's studies show a critical involvement and analysis beyond a mere passive recording of the effects of exterior surfaces. On almost all of Leonardo’s figurative break downs and studies are a series of geometric diagrams. On one such anatomical drawing, Leonardo has gone so far as to write “let no one who is not a mathematician read my principles.”[2]  With this point of consistency from our discussion Vitruvius to Alberti, the question remains how this thinking of geometry blended figurative and architectural principles into one and the same practice.

While da Vinci's anatomical studies might be seen in light of his activities as a painter, there is still a strong focus on the mathematical interpretation of the figure’s design and formula (this might be most clearly seen in his use of “cross-sections,” which will be discussed shortly). Further, Leonardo stands as an ideal case study, as it is known that he was working simultaneously on sectional perspectives and anatomical dissections (1487-89), while also actively involved with the dome of the Milan Cathedral (and ideal churches, 1487-88), as well as the Vitruvian man (1490). In what follows, I will address Leonardo’s Vitruvian man, anatomical cross sections, and architectural studies, highlighting the simultaneity of these practices in order to propose a mode of thought in line with the above inquiry, specifically a mathematical and geometric interpretation of the body and its translation into a process facilitating architectural design.

Fig. 1 Leonardo da Vinci, Man inscribed in a square and a circle (the ‘Vitruvian Man’), 1490, pen and ink with wash over metal point on paper, 34.4 x 25.5 cm, Venice, Galleria dell’Accademia (image taken from web).

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (fig.1) shows the anterior view of a man surrounded by, as well as connecting, a square and circle. This is as Vitruvius described, when he stated, “also a square will be found described within a figure, in the same way a round figure is produced.”[3]  In this drawing, we see two of the most important shapes used in Renaissance architecture and its re-birth of a mathematically inspired interpretation of the world. The circle and the square, and/or a composite of both, stand as the keystones to design in Renaissance architecture. In da Vinci's drawing, we see an emphasis on the contiguity of the human body with geometry, in an effort to demonstrate a divine harmony between the macro- and microcosms. Speaking to the symbolic value of these shapes for the Renaissance, John Hendrix states:

If the square is taken as the traditional symbol of the earth and the circle is taken as the traditional symbol of the divine, then the drawing represents the ability of man to connect the celestial and the material, by being able to ascend to the one and descend to the other in his soul.[4] 

Using his Vitruvian Man, da Vinci illustrates a form language that describes essential geometries incorporated in abstracting from nature, or specifically in this case, the figure. Further, the square and the circle (and geometry as a whole) directly relate to da Vinci's ongoing interest in a “transformation” – “or the plastic moulding of one shape into another without change of area or volume.”[5] For da Vinci, the Vitruvian Man stands at the center of an aesthetic preoccupation, or an obsession with squaring the circle.[6] This is in addition to seeing the transformative qualities between the two (as in the opening and closing of the heart as it contracts). To this point, Martin Kemp suggests that Leonardo’s relationship to volume and form was one of an objective sculpture realized from principles of harmony and proportion outlined in Vitruvius. Kemp states

… whenever he manipulated geometrical shapes or forms, they always assumed a concrete and real existence in his mind and in his hands, as a form of mental sculpture.[7]

 What we can take from this is the idea that form was not a random occurrence, but rather the outcome of a very deliberate and strict logic. It might also be said, especially in the case of da Vinci, that his form language made possible a mental sculpture, through which geometries created the potential for the realization and depiction of multiple subjects. As such, this language is one not directed at a recording of the figure, but rather an elevated awareness of the geometric volumes and their role in developing a higher unity. Oswald Mathia Ungers has noted this principle in his discussion of “The Criteria of Architecture,” stating “the essential geometrical figures remained the circle and the square, as representations and synonyms for the cosmos. Just as the human body was a clearly defined organism, with heads and limbs, so were buildings.”[8] Armed with a language of form and a syntax for how those forms should be proportioned, da Vinci was designing a visual rule consistent with an ideal that could be carried over again and again into other any design. To return to Unger,

Form was not a random occurrence but the outcome of applied logic, and hence comparable with the result of applying proportional relationships. Seen in this light, architecture was a question of giving order to matter, physical data, and reality through the application of reason …matter was subjected to the rigors of form. Such a logic excluded any concept of an ideal of matter or functionality. Architecture was comparable to a science that had lost sight of the absolute, the Platonic concept of reality, truth, and beauty.”[9]

If the Vitruvian Man qualifies as a visual manifestation of an aesthetic program, it follows that we can also see these ideas in da Vinci's cross-sections and anatomical breakdowns. From a modern understanding, anatomy is the structure of the parts of the body revealed by its dissection. That is, the structure of the body, its parts and the whole, is revealed by the art of “cutting” the body. In a very practical way, we may consider the drawings made by da Vinci as studies revealing the interior structure of the of the body in an effort to rationalize the shape and form of the exterior. To go one step further, we can say that da Vinci was studying the beauty/unity that existed among the chorus of smaller parts. These smaller parts would be studied for their design and proportion, and aligned with a series of geometric equivalents. Further, if we agree with the notion that buildings are indeed a form of a body (from the largest proportions and structure down to the smallest detail and ornament), we should expect to see the body being shown in architectural terms or architecture realized as the result of exploration of human anatomy. My final examples which will follow will strive to point out the shared technical language between anatomy and architecture. For this, I will continue to look at Leonardo da Vinci, and the not yet discussed Albrecht Dürer. In the following section, I will focus more on examples of mental sculpture and/or transformative examples of figure becoming architecture.

[1] Domenico Laurenza, Art and Anatomy in the Renaissance: Images from a Scientific Revolution, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012), 13.

[2] Martin Kemp, Leonardo Da Vinci: Experience, Experiment and Design, (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006), 12.

[3] Vitruvius, 72.
[4] John Hendrix, “The Neoplatonic Aesthetics of Leon Battista Alberti,” in Neo-Platonic Aesthetics: Music Literature, & the Visual Arts, eds. Liana De Girolami Cheney and John Hendrix ( New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2004), 163.
[5] Kemp, 14.
[6] Ibid., 14.
[7] Ibid., 14.
[8] Ungers, 315
[9] Ibid., 316.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Why should we care about construction? Part 2

Virtruvius and his influence
Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture had a profound influence on architectural and artistic practice in the Renaissance. Further, within his discussion of the practice of architecture, there are many instances where the human figure becomes the underlying template for design. Writing on the design of columns, Vitruvius stated:

When they discovered that for a man, the foot is one-sixth his height, they applied this ratio to the column, and whatever diameter they selected for the base of the column shaft, they carried its shaft, including the capital, to a height six times that amount. Thus the Doric column came to exhibit the proportion, soundness, and attractiveness of the male body.[1]

In Vitruvius, we see something very different from a literal translation of the look of the figure and/or its outwardly appearance as applied to a temple. Rather, underlying proportional principles are used as the basis for linking two radically unlike things. Vitruvius goes one step further in identifying each type of column (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian) as specifically manifesting different bodies (male, female, and girl). This isn’t to say that the columns take on representational attributes of either, but rather the proportional schema shifts in each, projecting an ideal connected with those types. The columns, in essence, become idealized forms distilled from an abstract essential specific to each figure or body type.

As a side note, we might think of Plato’s thoughts as foundational to the way Vitruvius’s columns align the viewer with a rational order via the abstraction of figurative properties into the simple geometric language of the column. While Vitruvius’s thoughts on the column orders give a very direct picture of the relationship between the human body and building, his thoughts on proportion are still more encompassing. To this point, Vitruvius stated that proportion

consists in taking a fixed module, in each case, both for the parts of building and for the whole, by which the method of symmetry is put into practice. For without symmetry and proportion no temple can have a regular plan; that is it must have an exact proportion worked out after the fashion of the human body.[2]

Thus, all proportion is derived from the human body. Further, this system of proportion is achieved the same way as in architecture, through the organization and assessments of units realized under a larger plan. For Vitruvius, and the Renaissance artists that follow, it is not just the large design of the figure which organizes a floor or elevation view of a building, but also the design of smaller parts and how they speak in concert to the whole. With a consistent line from Plato to Vitruvius showing an emphasis on mind and the rational ordering of proportion, we can now look to Alberti, one of the first Renaissance architects to practice/theorize this.

In his study and translation of Vitruvius’s work, Alberti (the first to translate Vitruvius, making his thoughts available to other Renaissance artists capable of reading latin) takes much from his thinking, allowing it to influence his ideas of beauty, design, and proportions. While not always in complete agreement with Vitruvius, Alberti does share a strong connection expressed in his thinking of concinnitas. Alberti defines this idea as “a harmony of all the parts … fitted together with such proportion and connection that nothing could be added, diminished, or altered for the worse.”[3] This idea comes to stand as paramount to Alberti as a way of composing form and proportion consistent with antiquity. While beauty is a concept intimately paired with reason, it is also developed and abstracted from existing principles observed in nature. Regarding the body more directly, Alberti states:
Beauty is a form of sympathy and consonance of parts within a body, according to a definite number, outline and position, as dictated by a concinnitas, the absolute and fundamental rule of nature.[4]

Here, Alberti points to a universal principle in his statement on beauty consistent with the concerns of Vitruvius and Plato. According to this governing rule, proportions are translated into geometric forms, which are then translated to human qualities, and these human qualities are then taken into that of architecture. It is this idea of concinnitas, as Alberti’s governing ideal, which allows for this practice to function as something common to all subjects depicted. Specifically important here is that Alberti is consistently drawing on and creating through the formal language of this aesthetic outlook. While he may be observing a body, façade, archway, etc., what matters is that they are all speaking to a larger ideal from which his artistic practice may be thought to originate from.

The thread of Platonic thought that runs from Vitruvius to Alberti appears throughout artistic thinking in Renaissance works in some form or another. With an emphasis on geometry, harmony, and proportion, beauty becomes a quality not found in the material of artworks, but rather in the conceptual plan the artist brings to it. The idea or ideal of beauty is pre-existent in the mind of the artist and thus something applied across subject matter and practices. In essence, from Platonic thinking via Vitruvius to Alberti, a form language is synthesized between the natural world and man’s rational capabilities in pointing to the Divine. This form language permeates Renaissance architecture, and as I will hope to show in the next entry, is also active in anatomical dissections as well as abstractions of the human figure.

[1] Vitruvius Pollio, Vitruvius: Ten Books on Architecture, trans. Ingrid D. Rowland (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 55.
[2] Ibid.,72.
[3] Leon Battista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, trans. Joseph Rykwert, Neil Leach, and Robert Tavernor (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988), 422.
[4] Ibid., 422.