Proportion is the relationship of one part of a whole to other parts

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  • Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'The Proportion and Design of Raphael's 'Transfiguration', Lecture Diagram 10' circa 1810

    Joseph Mallord William Turner
    The Proportion and Design of Raphael's 'Transfiguration', Lecture Diagram 10 circa 1810
    Pencil and watercolour on paper
    Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

    View the main page for this artwork

  • Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Cross-sections of the Human Body, Lecture Diagram 1 (after Dürer)' circa 1810

    Joseph Mallord William Turner
    Cross-sections of the Human Body, Lecture Diagram 1 (after Drer) circa 1810
    Watercolour on paper
    support: 618 x 797 mm
    Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

    View the main page for this artwork

  • Euan Uglow, 'Zagi' 1981-2

    Euan Uglow
    Zagi 1981-2
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1500 x 1070 mm
    Purchased 1982 The estate of Euan Uglow

    View the main page for this artwork

In art it has usually meant a preoccupation of artists with finding a mathematical formula for the perfect human body.

At the time of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer attempted to find a formula that would enable the body to be exactly inscribed in a square or a circle. Their system seems to have been to first make the height the same as the full width of the outstretched arms, and then to add to the height so that the total height was equal to eight heads. Renaissance researches into proportion were inspired by the ancient Roman writer of a treatise on architecture, Vitruvius.

A more general formula for perfect proportion is the Golden Section or Golden Mean. This is defined as a line divided so that the smaller part is to the larger part as the larger part is to the whole. It works out at roughly 8:13 or a bit over one third to two thirds. In one way or another the Golden Section can be detected in most works of art. It so named because it was considered to have some special aesthetic virtue in itself.