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Leonardo da Vinci's iconic Vitruvian Man recast as monumental 21st century sculpture
Babette Bloch, Vitruvian Man, 2012. 16 feet tall by 10-3/4 feet wide. Photo credit Richard Lerner.

SHELTON, CT.- A monumental sculpture that translates one of the world’s most famous drawings – Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance masterpiece, Vitruvian Man – into stainless steel has been installed and available for public viewing in Enterprise Corporate Park in Shelton, Connecticut.

Sculptor Babette Bloch frees Leonardo’s image from its 13-1/2 by 10 inch sheet and creates a monument to the wedding of art and science. Also titled Vitruvian Man, like the original drawing, Bloch’s 16-foot tall, 5,000 pound sculpture is made of three figures of hand-textured stainless steel. Two nearly identical figures – each with its arms directly out to the sides and set within a square frame – sandwich a third figure with its arms elevated and legs apart that is framed by a circle. Whether viewed from the front or back, observers will see the overlap of the different stances shown in Leonardo’s drawing.

Bloch’s approach to interpreting the drawing as a sculpture resolves several challenges. The drawing does not illustrate the man’s back, so Bloch’s cut-out figures show only the front on both sides. The steel is flat, and Bloch suggests features, including facial expression, hair, and musculature, by piercings in the steel.

Where sculpture is most often solid mass, Bloch’s Vitruvian Man creates the sensation of openness and relative weightlessness. The frames are supported by four slender square columns that hold the sculpture aloft from an elevated granite base. And the figures are separated by more than a foot, which provides a sense of space and openness. The figures are made from stainless steel 5/8ths of an inch thick, and the piercings allow light to pass through. The bright steel will reflect the different colorings and characteristics of the setting as day turns to evening and night and as summer yields to fall.

Artists have used stainless steel to create sculptures for decades, notably David Smith (1906-1965), whose Modernist Cubi series of welded cubes, rectangles, and cylinders broke new ground and have influenced artists for generations. Bloch’s Vitruvian Man, however, is figurative and puts the media of stainless steel in the service of representational imagery.

The technologies used in cutting thin stainless steel have long had industrial uses but required new techniques for cutting sheets nearly eight feet wide by 12 feet in height. Too thick to be precisely cut by lasers, the steel was water-jet cut by a mixture of water and garnet sand forced through a tube nearly as slender as a ballpoint pen under 60,000 pounds of pressure.

Leonardo’s drawing, from circa 1487, is considered the consummate integration of art and science during the Renaissance and an expression of man’s relationship to his physical and spiritual worlds. It is also an illustration of what was felt to be the universal proportions of the human body. Leonardo’s accompanying writings cite Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (c. 80-70 BC – c. 15 AD), the Roman writer, architect, and engineer and author of the multi-volume De Architectura libri decem (De Architectura) (The Ten Books of Architecture). Vitruvius viewed architecture as an imitation of nature, with its most important expression found in the human body. He developed the concept that has come to be known as the Vitruvian Man: a human figure set within a circle and a square, the most basic of geometric forms, with the relationship between the parts of the human body in a purportedly universal proportion.

The setting for Vitruvian Man is Enterprise Corporate Park, a 65-acre site that combines residential and commercial buildings and extensive, landscaped grounds. Open to the public at all times, the park features an art collection that includes figurative and abstract sculpture by Sandro Chia, Richard Erdman, and the late Stanley Bleifeld, among others.

Vitruvian Man was commissioned by R. D. Scinto, Inc., a private real estate development and construction company based in Shelton, CT.

Babette Bloch is an innovator in the use of laser- and water jet-cut stainless steel. Her public commissions evoke moments in history and include sculptures of pioneers installed in Hudson Heritage Farm in Ganges, MI, and nine-foot-tall figures that recall life on an antebellum farm, including a plantation owner, an overseer, and enslaved Africans, at Brookgreen Gardens, the nation’s oldest public sculpture garden, in Murells Inlet, SC. Bloch’s limited edition sculptures of vases and flowers and wildlife are collected privately in Europe and the United States.

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