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Gallucci’s Commentary on Dürer’s ’Four Books on Human Proportion’

Giovanni Paolo Gallucci

On the Symmetry of Human Bodies


Gio. Paolo Gallucci

To the Holy Majesty of Maximilian,1 Elect king of Poland, and Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Wittenberg, and others.

Grand Master in Prussia of the Teutonic Order, and Master of the same for Germany and Italy, and the rest. Count of Habsburg and Tyrol, along with others.

Texte intégral

1If it is true that good things are greater, and so much more divine, when they approach the goodness that God Almighty uses to universally communicate to all creatures, then it will also surely be true that the utility that comes from painting is more divine than would derive from any other art, mechanical or liberal. Therefore, if we make a comparison between this [art] and the others, we will clearly see that not only these, but all others are altogether far inferior. Is it not true that in all the other [arts], in all of their operations, they fail to aim or search for those conveniences continually sought by men for the benefit of their bodies? Likewise, others furnish the living, others clothing, others housing, and others ornaments of these things, while others the tools to be able to create these things that bring comfort to the senses, which will soon be lost. Painting is like a divine work for the eyes, which represents those divine lights in us that are immortal by nature, and, as windows to our soul while we remain locked in this prison, penetrates into the most secret parts, eliciting pain, joy, desire, and fear. Who is not moved to the contemplative life by the diversity of things that able painters represent through lines and colors, after having seen those Holy Fathers made by the hand of a talented living painter and wearing those things naturally produced in the Egyptian desert, where they nourished their souls with the contemplation of heavenly bread and, having nothing, found themselves content and full of all those goods that men can desire while living this mortal life? Who will not fear the punishment of God, seeing the desolation of the great city of Jerusalem, and mothers gnashing for need of bread, their sons roasted by His hand. Who will not hate sin once having seen the Last Judgment of Michelangelo in Rome, or elsewhere made by an expert hand? Who does not burn of the love of Christ, our Lord, having seen his life represented with such diligence, and in art in the many drawings of our Albrecht Dürer?

2If I wanted to explain all of the passions that are generated in our souls and demonstrated by the expert hand of a pious and judicious painter, not only would a page not be enough, but so too would a book not explain even the smallest part. For the painter does not settle for merely advancing all of the mechanical arts, since with the soul the body has greater excellence, nor does it fall to part of the liberal arts. Indeed, if we were to investigate the truth, we would find it clearly between these. Therefore, even though the arts and sciences have their location in the soul, not all men are obliged to obtain from those the utility that they are wont to bring to the world. But painting so accommodates the taste and sense of everyone, and does so without any strength of effort and with much contentment to the body, that there is no man so well-learned or ignorant that he would not feel his soul touched and so swept away by beautiful paintings that almost with a certain suavity he feels himself violated and, in a certain way, feels many things carved into his intellect from which he immediately learns so many divine things that he could not have understood with long study and great effort.

  • 2 As a prolific author in the field of astronomy, Gallucci himself used extensive illustrations to ex (...)
  • 3 The so-called “particle” (Trümlein) used by Dürer was equal to less than a millimeter, which, Panof (...)
  • 4 The precept reiterates the Albertian dictum first published in his Della pittura of 1435, that “No (...)
  • 5 Giovanni Paolo Gallucci, Della simmetria dei corpi humani, libri quattro (Venice: Roberto Meietti, (...)
  • 6 In the Introduction to The Republic, Plato argues that an ideal state must be ruled by philosopher (...)
  • 7 Julian the Apostate (r. 355–363) was the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire. His anti-Chr (...)

3Moreover, neither astrology, nor geometry, nor many other arts called liberal, can explain their concepts without using painting to make illustrations with lines, figures, and often even with colors, as can clearly be seen through their books.2 Now for this divine faculty, Albrecht Dürer far surpassed all those who came before him (although they may be most celebrated in histories and verses), and left himself to posterity in his writings and paintings on the idea of true painting and sculpture, seen clearly in the drawings for this book On the Symmetry of Human Bodies. Here he left out no particle3 of our external bodies (considering the painter and sculptor are concerned with that which can be seen)4 from his measuring and explaining with divine genius and such subtlety that he astonishes anyone who is a student or expert of art. Hence it happened, having written this work in the German language for the benefit of its painters, it was then translated into the Latin language by a man of great virtue, whose effort will be such appreciated by the world, and even though it was printed twice, one cannot find a copy anymore, except with someone whose kept them as dear as oriental pearls, and in the most honored places of their studies. Now, so as to ensure that this valuable work will not remain dead, and to allow every painter to take advantage of it (given that only a few prefer the Latin language), I have translated it to our Italian language. This I did, of course, after great effort due to the many mistakes that were in the Latin edition, and because the material itself is difficult to explain, as the author himself affirms.5 But, I was not satisfied with this and found it very necessary to add a fifth book for students of this faculty, which is taught through the authority of philosophers and poets, who, along with those colors and lines, can explain both the natural and the incidental passions of the souls of men. This is known only to a few painters. Now, having brought this book back to its perfection, I felt compelled to dedicate it to Your Majesty for two reasons. First, the work of Dürer is of the most fortunate house of Austria, having been written while the author benefitted from the most honored salaries, initially from Maximilian I, and then from the most fortunate Charles V, who ruled both when [Dürer] lived and at the time of his death. For this reason, I dedicate the book to you, because in doing so I do nothing other than return to you what is yours. If I did not, you could reasonably demand it so. The second reason is that knowledge of the good arts and sciences in Germany has been returned to the most fortunate house of Austria. Thus there is no prince that better satisfies the conditions set forth by the divine Plato, who wished for a good prince, such that the sciences, and all the liberal arts, shine in you so nothing other than that one most splendid sun beams among many stars.6 Therefore, with the care that you take in your knowledge of all things that can adorn the soul, you are and will be in the future a mirror to all Christian princes, indeed to all of the world, which for many years, and even more now than ever, seek books, and the mathematical instruments, and men most expert in every field, who delight in your most honored court will not want neither for Platos, nor Aristotles, nor Euclids, nor Ptolemies, nor Archimedes, nor Apelles, nor Lysippi, nor others most famous in ancient times but until now buried in darkness for many centuries because they did not have strong states like that of Alexander [the Great], or patrons who kept them alive, as does Your Majesty now. This is deservedly true. Moreover, the persecution of Julian the Apostate7 against the Church of God was the most perilous of all that came before, where an innumerable multitude of martyrs had to die, because I do not think he attempted to kill the bodies of the Christians, as had others before him, but to kill the souls and keep them locked in the dark burial of the bodies in this world, and keep the other in eternal darkness; wanting no Christian to attend to the letters, he threatened the cruelest punishment. On the contrary, Your Majesty, wishing not only to preserve the Christian religion, but also to expand it with your forces, embraces the letters and literati, and so inspires all your subjects with your example (as with the old proverb, such as are the citizens, so are their princes) that there can be no doubt that similar principles are true and that the Church of God flourishes and makes fruits worthy of eternal life. Deservedly then, I have wanted to dedicate these my vigils to Your Majesty, as a sign of my devotion in verse, as long as I am still able (God providing me with life and strength) to demonstrate it with more steadfast arguments. Preserve me, Your Majesty, and deign to consider me among the small number of your most faithful servants as I pray to our Lord God for your wealth and happiness.

4Venice, January 20, 1591.

5Your Majesty’s
Most humble servant

6Gio. Paolo Gallucci


1 Maximilian III, Archduke of Austria (1558–1618).

2 As a prolific author in the field of astronomy, Gallucci himself used extensive illustrations to explain technical concepts and represent scientific instruments and constellations. See Giovanni Paolo Gallucci, Theatrum mundi et temporis (1588); Speculum Uranicum (1593); De fabrica, et usu hemisphaerii uranici (1596); Nova fabricandi horaria mobilis (1596).

3 The so-called “particle” (Trümlein) used by Dürer was equal to less than a millimeter, which, Panofsky argues, went beyond artistic usefulness. Erwin Panofsky, “The History of the Theory of Human Proportions as a Reflection of the History of Styles,” in Meaning in the Visual Arts (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1955), 55–107, at 103–104.

4 The precept reiterates the Albertian dictum first published in his Della pittura of 1435, that “No one would deny that the painter has nothing to do with things that are not visible,” Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting, transl. John R. Spencer (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1966), 43.

5 Giovanni Paolo Gallucci, Della simmetria dei corpi humani, libri quattro (Venice: Roberto Meietti, 1594), 1: 1–2,; Joseph Leo Koerner, The Moment of Self-Portraiture in Renaissance Germany (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 161.

6 In the Introduction to The Republic, Plato argues that an ideal state must be ruled by philosopher kings, as all philosophers aim to discover the ideal polis.

7 Julian the Apostate (r. 355–363) was the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire. His anti-Christian sentiment and promotion of Neoplatonic paganism caused him to be remembered as Julian the Apostate by the Church. Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London: Penguin, 2001), chapter 23; Adrian Murdoch, The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2008).


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