Information on Michelangelo's Ideal Face

by Nora Zavalczki
David has ideal facial proportions.

David has ideal facial proportions.

Hemera Technologies/ Images

Michelangelo Buonarroti was a versatile artist; he was a sculptor, painter, architect and poet. For Michelangelo, art was meant to represent ideal beauty. The sculpture “David” is the portrayal of an "ideal" man, and many of the artist's paintings described the ideal human being. “Ideal Face” is a face with ideal proportions; Michelangelo used it as a reference in some of his paintings and sculptures.

The “Ideal Face”

The “Ideal Face” is a red chalk drawing of a woman whose face has ideal proportions. The face is divided in three equal parts: from the hairline to the eyebrows, from the eyebrows to the base of the nose and from the base of the nose to the lowest point of the chin. The length of the ear is equal to 1/3 of the length of the face. Artists today still use these proportions when preparing drawing faces.

Physical Perfection and Michelangelo's Art Philosophy

Michelangelo's figures from his early and middle periods are the embodiment of perfection and beauty. The artist considered the body as a reflection of the soul. Michelangelo adhered to a neoplatonic art philosophy, and he believed that his art had to be a representation of a pre-existent form. A block of marble was potentially a work of art and the artist had the intellect and tools to reveal the art form. According to the neoplatonic art philosophy, the concept existed independently of the artist and it is nature that implants it into the matter, be it a block of rock or a canvas.

Other Representations of the "Ideal Face"

The proportions of the “Ideal Face” exist in Michelangelo's Adam in the “Genesis” fresco in the Sistine Chapel. The position of Adam's face and his appearance are very similar to the woman in “Ideal Face.” The single item that distinguishes the woman from Adam is the earring that she is wearing. David, Michelangelo's famous statue, also has a face with ideal proportions. Michelangelo's male and female characters have similar features and the artist uses the ideal proportions for his characters.

Leonardo's Vitruvian Man

The “Vitruvian Man” by Leonardo da Vinci was also a representation of an ideal, but the artist included the proportions for the entire human figure. This drawing dates from approximately 1490. Leonardo presented two superimposed positions of the ideal man with his arms and legs apart inscribed in a circle and a square. The accompanying text mentions the ideal proportions. The height of the ideal man is equal to 24 palms (i.e., the width of four fingers) and the length of the man's outspread arms. The face measured from the hairline to the lowest point of the chin should be 1/10 of the height according to Leonardo. The distance from the lowest point of the chin to the nose is 1/3 of the head's length, while the length from the hairline to the eyebrows should be equal to the length of an ear and 1/3 of the face's length.

Photo Credits

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