Who the heck is Vitruvius...

The reverse writing imbedded in Leonardo’s drawing is his translation into Italian from the Latin of MARCUS VITRUVIUS POLLIO, De Architectura, Book III of X, Chapter 1, "On Symmetry in Temples and in the Human Body." Vitruvius, an architect and military engineer during the Second Triumvirate, (following the death of Julius Caesar) and in the early reign of Augustus, was strongly influenced by the Greeks, particularly Hermogenes (c.200 BCE), and wrote on topics of style, proportion, ornamentation, the directions of streets, foundations and substructures, building methods and materials, ancient inventions, acoustics, and structural harmonics.

Vitruvius wrote,
" the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and them apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height ..."


Students will create their own version of the Vitruvian Man and will relate Vitruvius' theories of proportions to their model. What follows is detailed instructions to help guide students through the work.

With a partner and a digital camera locate an adult male and photograph him in the positions described below...

  1. Have the subject stand upright with his legs together and his arms straight out to the sides for your first image.
  2. Next, have your subject open his legs until his height has been decreased by 1/14 of his original height. Then have him raise his arms until his middle fingers touch the level of the top of his head.
  3. Be sure all appropriate calculations are thought out before approaching your subject.
*NOTE: to get the best results use a model with bright clothing and photograph against a white wall.*

Once you have acquired the images needed, determine if the following ten statements are true.

The preceding is the complete translation of the text accompanying Leonardo DaVinci's Vitruvian Man. It is actually a translation of Vitruvius, as Leonardo's drawing was originally an illustration for a book on the works of Vitruvius.

  1. The length of a man''s outspread arms is equal to his height.
  2. From the roots of the hair to the bottom of the chin is a tenth of a man's height.
  3. From the bottom of the chin to the top of a man's head is one eighth of his height.
  4. The greatest width of the shoulders contains in itself the fourth part of the man.
  5. From the elbow to the tip of the hand will be the fifth part of a man.
  6. From the elbow to the angle of the armpit will be the eighth part of the man.
  7. The whole hand will be the tenth part of the man.
  8. The foot is the seventh part of the man.
  9. From the sole of the foot to below the knee will be the fourth part of the man.
  10. The distance from the bottom of the chin to the nose and from the roots of the hair to the eyebrows is, in each case the same, and like the ear, a third of the face.
  11. The space between the legs will be an equilateral triangle.


At the point in the school year that this project will be presented, we will have explored many different presentation styles open to the students. It is our belief that different students will excel in different styles and we want students to be able to design thir finished work in a manner that best reflects their work.

Upon completion of your calculations show these 10 ratios and statements on your newly created Viruvian Man.

Your final project can be presented in any form you deem suitable for the work that you created. Be sure to include answers to the following questions in your final presentation:

  • Are your fractions/ratios similar to Vitruvius'?
  • If you have fractions/ratios that are not similar, why do you think your findings are different from Vitruvius'?
  • If you have fractions/ratios that are similar, what does this tell us about human bodies now compared to human bodies in the 1500's?

We have presented our finished task as a webpage. View finished project.

Extension Activities:

  • Try to find a new model, other than a male (try kids, females, teens etc.) and make a "Vitruvian Person" - do these same fractions/ratios apply? See if you can come up with some new relationships that with your new model that don't fit the male Vitruvian Man.


  • Number Concepts: Develop a number sense for decimals and common fractions, explore integers and show number sense for whole numbers
  • Number Operations: Apply arithmetic operations on whole numbers and decimals in solving problems
  • Patterns & Relations: Use relationships to summarize, generalize and extend patterns including those found in music and art
  • Shape & Space (3D/2D): Use visualization and symmetry to solve problems involving classification and sketching
  • Shape & Space (3D/2D): Classify triangles according to the measures of their angles
  • Shape & Space (Transformations): Create patterns and designs that incorporate symmetry. tesselations and reflections
  • Analysis: Students will study and analyze the indivisual character of natural objects and forms
  • Assessment: Students will impose standards on designed objects and invent improved versions
  • Unity: Students will create unity by integrating the parts of a composition into the whole
  • C4: Students will use organizational processes and tools to managae an inquiry
  • C5: students will use technology to aid collaborationduring inquiry
  • C6: students will use technology to investigate and/or solve problems
  • C7: Students will use electronic research techniques to construct personal knowledge and meaning


  • Follows all assigned directions carefully and consistently
  • Works well with partner/group, workload is divided and shared equally
  • Includes all of the required elements with in-depth details and examples
  • Content is well organized using diagrams, headings, bullets, outlines or table of contents to help guide the audience
  • Shows evidence of thorough investigation and understanding of fractions and ratios in the human body and the idea of the Vitruvian Man
  • Follows most assigned directions consistently
  • Works well with partner/group, workload shared
  • Includes all of the required elements with essential knowledge about the topic
  • Content is organized using diagrams, headings, bullets, outlines or table of contents
  • Shows understanding of fractions in the human body and the Vitruvian Man
  • Follows directions
  • Works well with partner/group most of the time, workload often shared
  • Includes all of the required elements
  • Content is organized
  • Shows understanding of fractions
  • Does not follow all the directions
  • Work with partner/group was difficult, workload wasn’t shared
  • Lacks some of the required elements
  • Content was poorly organized
  • Understanding of fractions is not demonstrated in the work


During the project presentation and peer assessment, we asked the following questioned and received this feedback. 

1) This website was designed for our personal use, to help guide us in further planning when we actually teach this unit (hopefully) next year. Do you think that this site would be a helpful resource for other grade 6 teachers? Grade 6 students? How could we add to it or change it to make it better for others to use it as a resource?

  • Very interesting and a great site, it is probably best suited to be a teacher's resource, sometimes difficult to read with the dark background and light text- possible area to change for easier viewing, very impressed with the imaginative qualities of the project. 

2) One of our goals in creating this website and unit was to explore the ideas of Leonardo in ways that he would have done so- by studying, comparing, seeing and knowing to find the interconnectedness of the world. Do you think that we were successful in finding these connections? Would grade 6 students be able to see these relationships after going through this unit?

  • Yes, grade 6 students would definitely be able to see these connections, we sometimes take for granted the abilities of our students. 

3) Was the website well designed and easy to navigate? Were you able to find enough information to understand both our unit and the subject matter we will be using to teach it? Do you think that you now understand how we would approach this from the information in the website? Please provide any feedback that would help us to clarify any areas that were difficult or unclear.

  • The site was easy to navigate and was full of great activities, the objectives were clear and I think very realistic and rewarding for students, I especially think that the Related Projects is a great resource. 

4) As fellow emerging teachers, would you include the Unit of Study (this website) in your electronic portfolio for potential employers to see? What changes would we need to make in order for it to be an effective tool at portraying our interests and teaching styles?

  • Yes, include it for elementary teachers, modify for high school teachers.

In addition to the above feedback, the unit scored very high on the rubric provided (taken directly from the electronic course outline), by exceeding expectations in all areas except one, with the following discussion arising from our student assessment rubric:

  • The question that arose from a peer assessor was our use of a single rubric designed to evaluate the Vitruvian Man Project when multiple subjects were being taught and assessed. We had created a single rubric because the ICT and Math were seamlessly infused, so why should they be assessed separately? The assessor made an excellent point in stating that although the subjects are integrated, you must assign a mark for each separately on the report card. In order to be accountable to students, parents and administrators it is probably in the best interest of the teacher to keep distinct records of student performance in each subject, requiring a separate rubric for each. This issue will be fiurther addresses in our Self Evaluation, part 3.


© T. Green and K. McKie 2002