The Temple and the Man

Vitruvius, De Archicectura 1

“The building of temples relies on symmetry and architects need to most carefully understand the reason for this. It comes from proposition, which was called “analogy” in Greek. Proportion derives from fixed segments of the parts of the building and the whole—and the balance of symmetry is achieved through this. For no building can have an order in its design without symmetry and proportion, unless it has something like the precise design of a well-figured human body.  For nature has so composed the human body that the face from the chin to the top of the brow and the roots of the hair is one tenth of the whole and the palm of the hand from the wrist to the end of the middle finger is the same.

The head from the chin to the top is one eighth and the top of the chest where it meets the neck to the hair’s roots is a sixth. From the middle of the chest to the crown is one quarter of the whole. The third part of the length of the face extends from the bottom of the chin to the base of the nostrils. The nose from the nostril base to the space between the brows is the same. From that line to hair forms the forehead, a third part. The foot comprises a sixth of the body’s height and the chest is a quarter. The other limbs all have appropriate measures too. And ancient painters earned great praise by observing all these measures.

In the same way, the limbs of temples should have proportions of their various parts responding appropriately to the general size of the whole construction. Consider that the navel is the natural center of the body. For, if a person should lie on the ground with hands and feet spread wide and a circle has the navel as the center, fingers and toes will touch the line of the circumference. In addition, a square can be traced within the figure in the same way. For, if we take the measure from the sole to the top of the head and compare to measure to the distance from one hand to another, the lengths will be found equal, just like foundations squared with a rule. For this reason, if nature designed the body so that the parts correspond in their dimension to the whole design, then ancient people seem to have decided with good reason that they should keep in their works the exact proportions of the separate components to the design of the whole. Therefore, they have handed down orders in all of their works, especially in temples to the gods, the kinds of accomplishments whose excellence and weakness persist for generations.”

1Aedium compositio constat ex symmetria, cuius rationem diligentissime architecti tenere debent. Ea autem paritur a proportione, quae graece analogia dicitur. Proportio est ratae partis membrorum in omni opere totiusque commodulatio, ex qua ratio efficitur symmetriarum. Namque non potest aedis ulla sine symmetria atque proportione rationem habere compositionis, nisi uti ad hominis bene figurati membrorum habuerit exactam rationem. 2Corpus enim hominis ita natura composuit, uti os capitis a mento ad frontem summam et radices imas capilli esset decimae partis, item manus palma ab articulo ad extremum medium digitum tantundem, caput a mento ad summum verticem octavae, cum cervicibus imis ab summo pectore ad imas radices capillorum sextae, <a medio pectore ad summum verticem quartae. Ipsius autem oris altitudinis tertia est pars ab imo mento ad imas nares, nasum ab imis naribus ad finem medium superciliorum tantundem, ab ea fine ad imas radices capilli frons efficitur item tertiae partis. Pes vero altitudinis corporis sextae, cubitum quartae, pectus item quartae. Reliqua quoque membra suas habent commensus proportiones, quibus etiam antiqui laudes sunt adsecuti.

Similiter vero sacrarum aedium membra ad universam totius magnitudinis summam ex partibus singulis convenientissimum debent habere commensus responsum. Item corporis centrum medium naturaliter est umbilicus. Namque si homo conlocatus fuerit supinus manibus et pedibus pansis circinique conlocatum centrum in umbilico eius, circumagendo rotundationem utrarumque manuum et pedum digiti linea tangentur. Non minus quemadmodum schema rotundationis in corpore efficitur, item quadrata designatio in eo invenietur. Nam si a pedibus imis ad summum caput mensum erit eaque mensura relata fuerit ad manus pansas, invenietur eadem latitudo uti altitudo, quemadmodum areae quae ad normam sunt quadratae. 4Ergo si ita natura conposuit corpus hominis, uti proportionibus membra ad summam figurationem eius respondeant, cum causa constituisse videntur antiqui, ut etiam in operum perfectionibus singulorum membrorum ad universam figurae speciem habeant commensus exactionem. Igitur cum in omnibus operibus ordines traderent, maxime in aedibus deorum, operum et laudes et culpae aeternae solent permanere.

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Da Vinci Vitruve Luc

The Wheel Of Fortune (Ruota della Fortuna) and Four Classical Authors in Siena

The Late Medieval Duomo of Siena (Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta) is a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque styles–it has an impressive façade and is full (inside and out) of impressive artwork including sculptures by Michelangelo, Donatello and Bernini.


One of the floor mosaics that caught my attention as a classicist is the Ruota della Fortuna (“The Wheel of Fortune”) which communicates the mutability of fortune and is aimed at encouraging its viewers to turn to faith and work rather than relying on chance.

Wheel of Destiny

What is striking is that in the four corners of the mosaic are classical authors with short Latin quotations on the nature of fortune. The lines themselves are less interesting to me than the four authors who make the cut–none Christian, two Greek: Euripides, Seneca, Aristotle and Epictetus. Starting in the lower right-hand corner (if facing the altar), we find Euripides with a quote from the Elektra in Latin: Tibi dixi O Filii ut fortunam laboribus indages (“I have told you, son, to hunt fortune through labors”).

Euripides Duomo

Across from Euripides on the left, our old friend Seneca, Magna servitus est magna fortuna (“Great fortune is a great slavery”):

Seneca Duoma

On the top right, Aristotle is positioned above Euripides with a quote from the Politics (also in Latin) Fortuna prospera petulantes magis facit (“Good luck makes men more petulant”):

Aristotle Duomo

And facing Aristotle on the left is Epictetus whose quote is Non fortunae muneribus, sed animi bonis gloriandum (“We must glory not in the gifts of fortune but in the goods of the soul”):

Epictetus Duomo

The images and quotations themselves are interesting, but I am also intrigued by how these authors and their lines were selected to adorn this cathedral. Was there a collection of quotations about fortune? Were the artists educated in these classical authors? What would have Medieval viewers thought?