Vitruvian Self

Lesson Instructions

Rationale, Timing, and Background:These lessons work for the start of the year toward skill acquisition for the performance goals of the Next Generation Science Standards, and the associated CCSS math standards.  We begin our Journey with Leonardo da Vinci, our very own STEAM engine, who personified the cross-pollination of the mind, embodying the Renaissance and the notion that each discipline lends to the other.  There are many great resources for background learning like the PBS documentary Secrets of the Dead: Leonardo: The Man Who Saved Science.   The instructor should know about self portrait techniques, (dividing the face into quadrants), some students may have previous experience as well. This is not a script, add this to your repertoire to use at your discretion.   Introduce Leonardo da Vinci to your class, read a bit about him with the class.  Discuss points about his learning, if people have prior experience of his work.  For these purposes know that Vitruvius was a Roman architect, mathematician, and engineer in the first century B.C.E., on whose work Leonardo da Vinci built from, and that is where the title of the work “Vitruvian Man” comes from.   (Wikipedia article)   Pass out copies of the leafed Vitruvian Man.  Point out the segments that cross-cut the leg and arm, ask what they think those and the circle and square are for, and why he has four arms and legs.  Explain that peoples’ proportions, the distance from their furthest fingertip on one outstretched arm, to the furthest fingertip on the other outstretched arm is about the same as their height.  This makes a square, because the sides are equal on a square, and the “T” pose of the person.  So when they pose in an “X” shape, a circle describes the perimeter of body because the two diameters are about the same.  Ask them what the other segments may show, and they can measure with a ruler to see if there are other equalites that are being demonstrated in the drawing.Hand out the photographs and have the students cut and paste the two images of themselves onto a cardstock paper, (I use this on the inside cover of their math spiral notebook), one picture over the top of the other, with their best smile on top, or pass out the Vitruvian Stick Figure for them to do their own self portrait. While they go to work, explain that they are going to measure themselves to label their self portraits or photographs to make a diagram of their Vitruvian Self.  Demonstrate how to measure the circumference of your head with a measuring tape, and label your example.  Show some examples of what to measure and how to measure it.  Students can help each other as asked.   Avoid waistline measurements, as some are touchy about this, but they can include any measurement after they finish your list of “must haves”.  A possible list might include:  head circumference, arm span, height, length of legs, length of arms, hand span, foot size, distance between eyes, etc.After they have finished their Vitruvian cut-out or portrait, let the measurements begin!  Have them write down their measurements as they go.  Go over their work with them to check for understanding, and allow for sharing in follow up sessions.  


  • minimal: pencil
  • paper
  • measuring tape
  • colored pencils

Lesson Duration

50 minutes


Beginning of the year


  • 3rd grade
  • math


  • Measurement


  • Common Core Math
  • National Core Visual Arts Standards
  • Next Generation Science

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Other/Alternative Standard(s)

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