Polyclitus’ Canon of Proportions

 

Doryphoros or The Canon, Polyclitus, Roman copy in marble of bronze original, c. 450-440 B.C.

Doryphoros or The Canon, Polyclitus, Roman copy in marble of bronze original, c. 450-440 B.C.

The 5th Century B.C. sculptor, Polyclitus, wrote the famous treatise about what methods make the beautiful (to kallos)  and good (to eu) in art, unfortunately now lost. We know something of it through historians such as Pliny and Plutarch. Often mentioned is Polyclitus’ belief in measurements of one finger joint with the next, then the fingers to metacarpus (base of the hand), and it to the wrist, and all of these to the forearm, the forearm to the arm, and so on.

Polyclitus, in his treatise, also dealt with issues other than proportions such as the organic balance of tension and relaxation of body parts.

Polyclitus called this sculpture, The Canon. I think it is wonderful that he wrote a treatise on art and “put his money where is mouth is” by showing what he meant as well.

Notice in the sculpture that he emphasized the man’s little finger, a little like an exclamation mark.

Polyclitus was working the proportions of the natural forms. For example, his fingers look natural, as do other parts of the body, and as does the whole of the body.  The forms weren’t generic shapes of measurements.

King Khafre seated Fourth Dynasty, reign of Khafre Graywacke Height: 120 cm (47 1/4 in) Egyptian Museum, Cairo

King Khafre seated Fourth Dynasty, reign of Khafre Graywacke Height: 120 cm (47 1/4 in) Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Contrast The Canon with this Egyptian sculpture, in which the rudimentary proportion of the overall figure is balanced. However,  when we take a detailed look the forms they remain generic and unnatural–as if they are rounded blocks.

Charles Laughton as the hunchback of Notre Dame

Charles Laughton as the hunchback of Notre Dame

It is also important to note that beauty is connected with pleasing proportions. The antithesis is that ugliness is unbalanced proportions. Think of an hunchback with a hump on one side of his back and topped off by a malformed and unsymmetrical head.

I hope you enjoyed seeing math in art in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
New York, March 6, 2007

Newberry at To Dentro by Thodoris Archontopoulos

Archaeologist Thodoris Archontopoulos takes us on a journey through Newberry’s works in progress. Originally published in the Greek newspaper the Rodiaki, 1996.

Newberry, The Pond, wip, oil on linen

The Pond, wip, oil on linen, 54 x 48″. Destroyed.

Michael Newberry exhibits his works in Rhodes at the salon-like gallery To Dentro (the Tree), June 15th through July 13th 1996.

Newberry has lived in Rhodes since 1995. Previously, he studied art in Los Angeles and in Holland and exhibited in The Hague, Brussels, New York, and frequently in Los Angeles, where he taught drawing and composition for four years at Otis/Parsons College of Art and Design.

In 1995 he exhibited in the Bastion of Saint George, sponsored by Rhodes Cultural Affairs and the Archaeological Service of the Dodecanese.

This year’s exhibition is of large canvases and their preparatory studies in pastel and pencil on paper. This exhibition represents a profound confession to all of us as Newberry takes an absolutely transparent look into the communication between the audience and the artist. Newberry shows us, in an uncommon way, how and even perhaps why he paints.

The character of this exhibition reveals the genesis of painting, but it also allows us to grasp how these expressive studies are united by a common vision, an unusual concept for an exhibition. In three large, unfinished paintings and many preparatory studies (45), we get a special look into the construction of the paintings through their relation to the studies. While the studies are made with different techniques in the mediums of pastel, pencil, and oil, they relate to one another, are connected by a common cause: form and light. Out of form and light the basic idea and the message combine with the color to create a personal aesthetic.

Pastel Color Study for the Pond

Pastel Color Study for the Pond

Atmosphere Graphite Study for the Pond.

Atmosphere Graphite Study for the Pond

Graphite Landscape and Water Study for the Pond.

Graphite Landscape and Water Study for the Pond

By observing these two elements, the paintings and their studies, we can locate the common rudiments of form, composition, light, and atmosphere. The studies’ differences of details, atmospheric light, and colors reveal the time involved in the conception of a large painting, and they contribute to the elevation of the aesthetic of the paintings.

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My Interview with VoyageLA

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Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Newberry.

 

Please tell us about your art.

Painting and everything associated with it is my ecstasy. It has given me so much joy, and I have learned so much about myself and humanity while painting. Two years ago I had a brush with death, and I was a little shocked at how peaceful I felt. My art had everything to do with that, not having any regrets. But I am very happy now to think of all the projects I get to paint.

But the incredible feelings I get painting are not the only reason I paint. Art communicates. And I try to make the world a better place by sharing meaningful feelings or showing something special and new to see. There are so many artists that have given me new insights into my soul — I hope I can return that experience, one person at a time. Read more with pics here