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da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

2009 January 26
by Michelle Bennett

On the first page of her article, Halberstam says that mind and body represent the binary relationship between men and women: “the split between mind and body…is a binary that identifies men with thought, intellect, and reason and women with body, emotion, and intuition.” For me, this binary reminds me of the relationship between art and science, or “emotion” and “intellect.” This relationship makes me think of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, a diagram of the ideal proportions of a man’s body. As I understand it, this drawing was made with the purpose of identifying perfection within certain ratios of the body for artistic purposes. However, I believe the fact that a man is the subject of this drawing somehow makes it belong more to the realm of science than art.

It makes the diagram more scientific, less fanciful. I imagine that if a woman were to be the subject of such a diagram, it would perhaps serve a different purpose, or elicit very different reactions. So I believe this image to be a utopic representation of the relationship between technology and gender, because it attempts to identify a code of beauty or perfection in the human form, thus carrying out what, according to Halberstam, is “the original goal of empirical science: total mastery of nature” (6). I say the image is utopic because it tries to order nature, and when I think of a utopic society, I think of one that is regulated and understood, and I believe this image is an early example of an attempt to order and understand the human body.

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