Albrecht Durer's (1471-1528) drawing of a geometrical man was an amazing--startling, even--object to the early 16th century consciousness. His …Symmetria partium…humanorum corporum (1537) was a masterpiece, and a key piece of revolutionary visionary thinking.
His Underwysung der Messung ("Treatise on Measuring") written about 500 years ago (in 1525) set the stage for this next work--it is here that we find some of the most recognizable of
Durer's illustrations of the instruments that he employed to do his perspective work. Durer--so far as I can tell--created an orthographically rotating human figures in three-dimensional trapezoids, creating incredibly human-like non-human forms. Supra-human, perhaps; mechanized, calculated, structural. His use of stereometry, the science of measuring volume, was adapted to this study of human form and the relationship between that and movement.
By doing this one could rotate the figures, pinch them, stretch them, and the proportions would remain exactly the same.
They were in a sense a CAT scan. And in this way the person in 1525, seeing this for the first time, would be experiencing something like the sensation of seeing an X-Ray for the first time in 1895 or a magnified flea in 1626. It was a spectacular effort an a major key to understanding movement, and anatomy, and of course map making.
This was a new way of thinking about the body, challenging the god-grace and ubiquitous church-inspired revelation of the body and how it worked. This was not a necessarily easy time in which to picture humans in such a scientific way. (In 1553 the physician and theological scholar Michael Severtus would be burned at the stake by John Calvin for his views on the Trinity, Nicean Creed and other related things, though his undeniably revolutionary idea of cardiopulmonary circulation was in itself a direct challenge to church teachings).
Durer’s innovation accommodated empirical observation and allowed for proportional change. Its importance in relational drawing, anatomical and technical, cannot be understated, which I think trumped it as a subversive agent to orthodoxy.
Erhard Schoen (1491-1542) who was one of the most prolific woodcut illustrators in Europe during this period with more than 116 books to his credit, produced Unnderweissung der proportzion unnd stellung der possen, liegent und stehent..., Norenberg 1542 followed Durer showing that the human form was reducible to connected but discrete Euclidean solids, and thereby was a knowable entity. (It is interesting to footnote here that this work came after a period of a dozen or so years in which Schoen produced many heavily anti-Catholic cartoons, broadsides and illustrations.)
Close on the heels of Durer was the work of Georg Bauer (also known as Agricola, 1494-1555) whose De re metallica Liber XII (“12 Books on the Subject of Metals”) in 1556. This work by Agricola (recognized as one of the founding fathers of a number of disciplines--mining geology and metallurgy, mineralogy, structural geology, and paleontology) was actually more concerned with mining and minerals than the title implies. It was here, again, that the illustrations were crucial and revolutionary—his book was a chief resource in mining for hundreds of years, due chiefly for its clear and precise how-to illustrations.