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A Time-Transcending Connection: The World of Mathematics and Arts

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Written by Adanur Nas


Moving your hand to the harmony of human proportion, enhancing it with your perspective on symmetry, and understanding how can balance be incorporated into your own work were the keystones behind the famous Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci. (2)


Posing as one of the most recognizable and significant art pieces based on mathematics, the Vitruvian Man is a Renaissance work depicting that if the body proportions used in it were representing a real-life man’s proportions, a human body could fit with geometry and mathematics, as well as architecture. (1) Leonardo da Vinci drew it with ink on paper and by using male models to calculate their body proportions to inscribe them in a circle and square.



Seeing the Vitruvian Man painting on science textbook in 5th grade as an aesthetic put to make the subject more attractive to students is not uncommon; however, as much as his art has always been put on a pedestal, the life of Leonardo da Vinci was a secret to everybody — the time he was most outspoken about himself was about his curiosity, or ‘obsession’ in his words, toward mathematics since he was a self-taught mathematician at the age of 40 who would later become known as the greatest polymath ever.


Prevailing not only in the Vitruvian Man, but two of the most known pieces of art world also act as a connection between paints and numbers: the Last Supper and Mona Lisa. Particularly, the Golden Ratio, denoted by ϕ and roughly equal to 1.618, is approximated by using Mona Lisa’s face as a base and drawing a rectangle around it as shown in the image below. (3)



Considering that the Golden Ratio was first calculated as a decimal by Michael Mästlin in 1597, (4) though the Mona Lisa was painted in 1503 without any knowledge and resource on the Golden Ratio, (5) this sequence of events between two polymaths proposes a crucial question: As much as they seem unrelated to a commoner’s eyes, how does arts and mathematics establish and maintain a time-transcending connection?


Passing of centuries after the deaths of Michael Mästlin and Leonardo da Vinci yielded the floor to contemporary artists, such as Jackson Pollock who utilized fractal geometry, and to absurdist artists, such as Salvador Dali who combined various geometric shapes in his paintings. Both of them were from different backgrounds, and their brushes moved according to their personal experiences while using similar, if not the same, geometric shapes in their arts to depict their own colors, similar to how first derivative graph and second derivative graph originate from the same original function but serve different purposes.


Drawing out a specific reason as to why many artists are highly inclined to go out of their ways to learn mathematical doctrines, and even become mathematicians themselves, along their way of leaving an artwork as legacy may be impossible, for both art and mathematic world are both complicated in their own way; however, the sheer connection between arts and mathematics is what turned mathematics into a form of art, as some experts argue, and propelled Leonardo da Vinci to say this: (3)


“Let no one read me who is not a mathematician.”



References:
  1. Exploring Art with Alessandro. Alessandro. 2 Feb. 2022 [https://www.exploringart.co/vitruvian-man-importance/ last accessed: 3rd January 2023]

  2. Artincontext. nd. 31 Mar. 2022 [https://artincontext.org/the-vitruvian-man-da-vinci/ last accessed: 3rd January 2023]

  3. The Mona Lisa Foundation. nd. 9 Aug. 2018 [https://monalisa.org/2012/09/12/leonardo-and-mathematics-in-his-paintings/ last accessed: 4th January 2023]

  4. Maths History. J.J. O'Connor and E.F. Robertson 1 Jul. 2001 [https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/HistTopics/Golden_ratio/ last accessed: 4th January 2023]

  5. Encyclopædia Britannica. A. Zelazko. 1 Jan. 2022 [https://www.britannica.com/topic/Leonardo-da-Vincis-parachute-1704849/ last accessed: 4th January 2023]


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