Artist research for structure of the human figure

Renaissance art

Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo

Leonardo Da Vinci was fascinated by the human body and started to compare it to a creation of nature. He combined his anatomical research with physiological research. He closely studied individual parts of the body including: the brain, heart and lungs as he believed that these were the ‘motors’ of life. His drawings connect the natural and abstract representation of the body. What I found interesting was that he sometimes drew his figures transparently, showing the structure of the skeleton and or muscles. (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2017).

Da Vinci kept many of his drawings to himself but he did publish some of his drains from observation on proportion of the figure. Having support from Mathematician Luca Pacioli, Da Vinci considered the proportional theories of Virtruvivs. Virtruvivs was a 1st century Roman architect that presented the principles of geometry on the composition of the human body. His drawing ‘Vitruvian man’ combined Leonardo’s obsession with mathematics and art. He devoted hundreds of pages to the question of quadrature (a math process of constructing a square with equal are to that of a circle – what ‘Vitruvian man’ was based on). This also overlapped his fascination and development for compasses. He found that “if a man be placed felt on his back with his hands and feet extended and a pair of compasses centred at his navel (the bodies natural centre) the fingers and toes will touch the circumference of the circle. For a square, the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head and then apply that distance to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be the same as the height.” (Calter, P. 1998) For men during the renaissance it was a ‘foundation of a whole philosophy’. This theory is said to offer exactly the link between the organic and the geometry of beauty.

Leonardo believed that the workings of the human body to be an analogy of the workings of the universe, ‘a man is composed of earth, water, air and fire’. He believed that the human skeleton are rocks and the lungs breathing is a comparison to the flow of oceans. (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2017) Leonardo would study corpses to draw from and he claimed to have cut up more than 30 corpses. He made lots of important discoveries including the first accurate depiction of the human spine. His notes contain the earliest known description of cirrhosis of the liver and conducted further investigations into the art and found a remarkable discovery. He discovered that the heart actually had 4 chambers rather than two. (BBC 2014)

During the Italian renaissance period being an artist and an anatomist was just as crucial as artists started to draw and sculpt a more lifelike portrayal of the human body. (Met Museum, 2002) Although during their time they were not considered very important, today they are taken very seriously especially in modern medicine. Leonardo’s heart drawings are a pure example of that.

Michelangelo was another artist that was well known for his detailed anatomical portrayal’s. He had a life long interest in the subject and bean to take part in directions in his early teens.

In an article about Michelangelo, by the Guardian, there was a discussion about artists, past and present, being able to ‘draw’. A biographer (John Richardson) claimed that Francis Bacon’s lack of skill was his downfall – ‘he failed to teach himself how to draw’. It is said that Michelangelo introduced us to the famous quote – ‘but can he draw?’. Vasari reports Michelangelo’s thoughts on Titan’s work, of which he said ‘that even though Titan’s use of colour and style was good he believed that this painter did not know how to draw’. Michelangelo’s ‘presentation drawings’ are ‘aesthetic and intellectual high points’ of his career. They were created as a gift for a friend who was learning to draw. They are believed to be Michelangelo’s most highly finished and elaborate drawings. (Hall, J 2010)

Both Leonardo and Michelangelo were very literate artists and ‘their sketches were intertwined with texts written in beautiful calligraphic script’ and Michelangelo’s drawings sometimes had his own poems written beside them. (Hall, J 2010)

In the late 1530’s, when Michelangelo was in his 80s, he started to turn his back on precision, perfection and control (contradictory to everything he would criticise other artists for not doing). This is evident in his black chalk drawing, ‘Christ on the cross’. He uses repetition of line in this drawing creating a ‘slumped body’ of Christ making him appear a ‘boneless mirage’.

Michelangelo spent a lot of his life being obsessed with the human body and seeing it as a physical representation of the soul. Michelangelo was more inclined to introduce curves and diagonals into hi drawings of the human body, whereas Leonardo panted his figures more using straight lines.

I found that Michelangelo was also interested in the movement of the figure. He would also, like Da Vinci, draw transparently showing the muscle and bone structure of the body in close up sketches of parts of the body. His theory about bone structure linked to the appearance of the body and its movement. (Hall, J 2010)

Michelangelo wanted to write a book to benefit those studying the figure working in sculpture and painting. It is thought that Michelangelo’s theories of anatomy were used in a 14-volume book on anatomy in 1567 titled ‘Trattato delle profit proporzioni’ by Vincenzo Danti. One translated passage from the book stated that the proportion of the body is made up of parts of the body of the body through anatomy rather than by measurement. This is an objection of Durer’s theory of proportion by Michelangelo saying it does not take into account the movements of human beings.

It is clear quite how important Leonardo was for the science world in regards to his theories and discovered as well as a great draughtsman. (Sound Affairs 2017)

Auguste Rodin

Rodin’s work had a huge influence on modern art. Early in life he struggles with his eye sight which made him very distressed and whilst being taught at school he would doodle and sketch on his work, where he found comfort. By the age of 13 Rodin had developed his drawing skills and started to take formal art courses. He was denied, however, on various occasion’s entry to formal art academies. Although Rodin was schooled traditionally and wanted academic recognition, he set himself away from the traditional sculpture of the work of his time. His work was criticised throughout his life and although he was sensitive to this he did not change his style. It was said that his works presented an artistic growth of democracy in which the common people matters just as much as the elite. In 1864 he submitted his first sculpture for an exhibition to the Paris Salon ‘The man with the broken vase’ but it was rejected. The piece was ‘unconventional’. It was a sculpture of a figure however the head was ‘broken off’ at the neck, the nose was flattened and crooked. The wrk was made ti emphasise texture and the emotional sate of the subject.

Following this in 1875 he travelled to Italy to study the work of Donatello and Michelangelo, which had a great effect on his work. He was greatly inspired in Italy and created his first large scale work – ‘The age of Bronze’. He took inspiration from Michelangelo’s sculptures which he visited at the Louvre. In 1877 his work was exhibited and shown in the Paris Salon. Critics were puzzled with the statue’s lack of theme. There was no link to mythology or historical event. I’m liking how Rodin went against everything of his time and how it ‘shouldn’t be done’. (Wikipedia. 2017)

During this time Rodin was accused of creating the sculpture from taking a cast of a living model. He denied these accusations and in 1878 he created a second nude, ‘St. John the Baptist preaching’, this time wanting to prove his point, he made this sculpture larger than life.

Rodin made plenty of sculptural fragments of the figure, which to him, were autonomous works of art. These sculptural works ‘fragments’ either lacked arms, legs, heads etc. He took the idea of sculpture further than its traditional portray of likeness and into a realm where form existed for its own sake. (Wikipedia. 2017)

in 1906 Rodin completed a series of drawings of dancers in the Royal ballet of Cambodia. These are considered to be some of his most famous drawings. (Biography. 2017)

Rodin had great impact on younger artists such as; Henri Mattise, who was influenced by his spontaneity whilst cubist’s and futurist’s were fascinated by his sense of motion and the fragmentation of his human forms. (The Art Story 2017)

I am keen to explore Rodin’s ideas of fragmentation and movement. what I really like about him is that he kept going when he was first rejected by the Paris Salon. He is described as a ‘timeless creator, who tried everything and managed to overcome all the challenges he set himself’. (Dagen, 2012)

Rodin was completely perplexed and entranced by the dancers of the Cambodian Royal Ballet and in just a week he created 150 drawings. The dancers were very traditional performers and they lived in the Royal palace with the king and only performed for special occasions, (this occasion being for the French King). The dancers would re-tell communal myths. Rodin’s studies were a contrast to this traditional dance, taking an improvised meaning and invention for his own drawings. He was simply interested in the dancers gestures and his ability to portray them on paper. A member of the Royal Ballet at the time mentions the ‘placement’ of his drawings are wrong but states that the energy is portrayed. The article suggests that Rodin had offered an alternative understanding of how the Cambodians saw their own art through his drawings. Offering the question ‘why not have another vision about our own silicate and be creative?’. (Kinetzdec, E. 2006)

Rodin’s drawings of figures from a more gestural concept

Rodin started drawing more freely and on a daily basis towards the end of the 19th century when he was over 50 years old. A lot of his drawings are subject to eroticism and this bought the attraction of many to his work. Focusing on Rodin’s use of line, you can pick apart his gestural drawings. In the drawing below ‘Rodin has worked very fast and gradually determined what is a defining line for a shape or group of shapes’. Rodin ‘reworks the lines and then adds not only a sense of movement of the figure but ask depth and ambiguity to the forms. His strengthened lines not only show his decision making but add intensity to the subject’. Although he reworks these lines they do not ‘take over’ something that I feel I need to work on and either add other marks to create that sense of movement or not to commit myself fully to a line that I am not confident in making. The use of line in this drawing shows both a hesitant action but also intensity of observation and sexual emotion.

The line drawing above is different and have links to Matisse and Schiele. The line looks continuous and only the head and hairline have caused Rodin to hesitate. Schiele seems more calculating and less spontaneous in his execution then Rodin does, I find Schiele is more confident and sure in putting down line on the page. As Rodin draws he seems to continue searching for the right line, ‘the line that can summarise the impossible: in other words an outline of a moving human body’. ‘His progressive use of line and shape also came to involve colour as well and the freedom of Rodin’s use of colour again sets him ahead of his time’. (More than just wine, 2011)


Encyclopaedia Britannica (2017) Leonardo Da Vinci. At: (Accessed on 15 June 2017)

Calter, P. (1998) Leonardo. At: unit14.html (Accessed on 14 June 2017)

Sooke, A. (2014) Leonardo Da Vinci’s groundbreaking anatomical sketches. At: http:// (Accessed on 16 June 2017)

Met Museum. (2002) Anatomy in the Renaissance. At: hd_anat.htm (accessed on 8 June 2017)

Hall, J (2010) ‘Michelangelo and the mastery of drawing. At: artanddesign/2010/mar/06/michelangelo-dream-drawing-courtauld-exhibition (Accessed on 14 June 2017)

Michaelangelo drawing blood (2017) Dissection. At: (Accessed on 15 June 2017)

Wikipedia. (2017) Auguste Rodin. At: (Accessed on 16 June 2017)

Biography. (2017) Auguste Rodin. At: (Accessed on 16 June 2017)

The Art Story. (2017) Auguste Rodin. At: (Accessed on 16 June 2017)

Dagen, P. (2012) Rodin: 300 Drawings – Review. At: 2012/feb/14/rodin-300-drawings-exhibition-review (Accessed on 12 June 2017)

Kinetzdec, E. (2006) Rodin Show Visits Home of Artist’s Muses. At: 2006/12/27/arts/design/27rodi.html (Accessed on 14 June 2017)

Cobbold, D (2011) Rodin, drawing and the body. At: 2011/12/rodin-drawing-and-body.html(Accessed on 16 June 2017)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s