An Asymmetrical Relationship

The idea that man can be one of the most important parts of creation - in fact the most important one - started to take place in the Humanistic and Renais- sance Age (15th.-16th.centuries). According to a new vision of the world and the man’s role in it, Humanists came to affirm the superiority of man on other creatures thanks to his intelligence and rationality. Pico della Mirandola was one of the most important Italian Humanists and his Oratio de hominis dignitate is considered a manifesto of this new vision of man after the Middle Age.


Leonardo da Vinci drew the Vitruvian Man in order to study the proportions of the human body, in an anthropocentric perspective. This drawing would have been the portrayal of all Renaissance art. It is based on the sixth book of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s De architectura, in which it is stated that it is necessary to reproduce the correct proportions of the human body if harmonious work is to be achieved. Leonardo used an experimental calculation of proportions from different human bodies and he explained that the head, measured from the hairline to the chin, lies in the body 8 times. Leonardo drew the body of the man inscribed in a square and a circle and he has only one body and one head; nonetheless, he has four arms and four legs. Already according to Vitruvius, the human shape could have been inscribed in those two geometric figures, because the square was the symbol of the heart, and the circle of the firmament; later on, the circular shape became a statement of God’s heavenly powers, whereas the squared one of the human command on earth. Thus, Leonardo declared the centrality of humankind in the cosmos.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s self-portrait, Leonardo Da Vinci, 1515 ca., royal library Torino

Leonardo Da Vinci’s self-portrait, Leonardo Da Vinci, 1515 ca., royal library Torino

  • 1333 AD
    Beginning of the rediscovery of ancient texts
  • 1463 AD
    24th February Pico Della Mirandola was born in Modena
  • 1484 AD
    Debate with some theologians in Paris
  • 1486 AD
    Published Oratio de Hominis Dignitate
  • 1487 AD
    Published Apologya
  • 1489 AD
    Published Heptaplus: de septiformi sex dierum Geneseos enarratione
  • 1490 AD
    Leonardo Da Vinci draws the Vitruvian Man
  • 1494 AD
    Pico della Mirandola dies on the 17th of November


4.10 Iam sum[m]us Pater architectus Deus hanc quam videmus mundanam domum, divinitatis templum augustissimum, archanae legibus sapientiae fabrefecerat. Supercelestem regionem mentibus decorarat; ethereos globos aeternis animis vegetarat; excrementarias ac feculentas inferioris mundi partes omnigena animalium turba complerat. Sed, opere consumato, desiderabat artifex esse aliquem qui tanti operis rationem perpenderet, pulchritudinem amaret, magnitudinem admiraretur. Idcirco iam rebus omnibus (ut Moses Timeusque testantur) absolutis, de producendo homine postremo cogitavit. Verum nec erat in archetipis unde novam sobolem effingeret, nec in thesauris quod novo filio hereditarium largiretur, nec in subselli[i] s totius orbis, ubi universi contemplator iste sederet. Iam plena omnia; omnia summis, mediis infimisque ordinibus fuerant distributa. Sed non erat paternae potestatis in extrema faetura quasi effeta defecisse; non erat sapientiae, consilii inopia in re necessaria fluctuasse; non erat benefici amoris, ut qui in aliis esset divinam liberalitatem laudaturus in se illam damnare cogeretur.
5.17 Statuit tandem optimus opifex, ut cui dari nihil proprium poterat commune esset quicquid privatum singulis fuerat. Igitur hominem accepit indiscretae opus imaginis atque in mundi positum meditullio sic est alloquutus: «Nec certam sedem, nec propriam faciem, nec munus ullum peculiare tibi dedimus, o Adam, ut quam sedem, quam faciem, quae munera tute optaveris, ea, pro voto, pro tua sententia, habeas et possideas. Definita caeteris natura intra praescriptas a nobis leges cohercetur. Tu, nullis angustiis cohercitus, pro tuo arbitrio, in cuius manu te posui, tibi illam prefinies. Medium te mundi posui, ut circumspiceres inde comodius quicquid est in mundo. Nec te celestem neque terrenum, neque mortalem neque immortalem fecimus, ut tui ipsius quasi arbitrarius honorariusque plastes et fictor, in quam malueris tute formam effingas. Poteris in inferiora quae sunt bruta degenerare; poteris in superiora quae sunt divina ex tui animi sententia regenerari».

Lectio Ecclesiastica (Italian Group)
4.10 Our supreme father, God, the maker, had already skillfully molded this earthly dwelling we see, the most venerable temple of divinity, with the laws of ancient wisdom. He had embellished the celestial region with the angelic intelligences, animated various globes with eternal souls and filled the vile and unkempt parts of the world with the varied array of animals. Nonetheless, when he finished his work, like a craftsman, he wanted someone to grasp the reason for such a great work, to love its beauty and to admire its vastness. Eventually, he came up with the creation of men, after he had already fulfilled all the other tasks, like Moses and Timaeus attest. But there was nothing among his archetypes from where he could mould his new progeny, nor in his treasures something which could be left to the new son in inheritance, nor a place was upon the seats of the universe where this contemplator could sit. All was filled; all things were already assigned to the highest, medium and lowest orders. Yet, it would not have been worthy of God’s power to renege on the last work, which was almost finished; it couldn’t be proper of his wisdom to waver for lack of intelligence facing a necessary task; it wasn’t worthy of his beneficial love that the creature, who was destined to praise divine generosity in the rest of creation, would have been forced to condemn it in themselves.
5.17 The optimum master eventually established that to the one, whom nothing he could have given of his own, had to be assigned the different qualities which belong to each creature. And he picked up the man like work of undefined nature and, after he had put him in the world’s core, he spoke like this: “I did not give you, o Adam, a particular place, nor a specific appearance nor aim, so you will get and preserve the dome, the aspect, the purposes you will have chosen thanks to your own vote and advice. The nature of the other creatures, well defined by the laws I wrote, is limited. Since you are not limited by any hindrance, you will choose for yourself thanks to your free will, in whose hands I have put you. I have placed you in the middle of the world in order to let you easily admire from there anything in the world. I did not make you heavenly nor earthly, mortal or immortal, so, as if you were your own master and just like a sculptor and maker, you will sculpt yourself in the shape you prefer. You will have the chance to degenerate into lower creatures, which are brutish; you can be reborn among the higher ones, which are divine, following the decisions of your soul.”


In his oration composed in 1486, Pico della Mirandola presents a new conception of human- kind. Once man is no longer subjected to a divine despotism, he becomes a beloved creation of God, who gives him the gift of free will. In this text, the author describes how the creation of man, who is completely different from the other creatures, proves divine intelligence. God creates man so that there will be a creature able to appreciate the beauty of the work he has done. As already expressed in the title, the author wants to put attention on the word “dignity”, which stands for those peculiar features which make every man so different from any other creature. Therefore, dignity constitutes the true essence of man, thanks to which he can be fulfilled following his own will. God, who endowed all the creatures with a precise nature, didn’t want to deprive man of the freedom he needs to mould himself according to his own will. In this way, man can choose if he wants to elevate himself and strive for God or if he prefers to degrade himself to the level of the beasts; this possibility makes the man superior to all the other creatures.


The Creation of Adam is a fresco painted by Michelangelo around 1511 and located in the vault of the Sistine Chapel. In a natural, bare background Adam’s figure is semi-recumbent; he is going to rise from the ground directing his hand to God, who is surrounded and carried by highly realistic angels. Both God and Adam have outstretched arms and their index fingers are lifted up, just a moment before the contact, representing the effective metaphor of the vital spark passing from the Creator to the forged creature, Adam. Moreover Michelangelo wants to show the special relationship between man and God: man is the only creature able to perceive the existence of God. Adam’s body still lacks the divine, miraculous breath which will make him a real man, endowed with intellect and spirit.


The piece of music Sus une fontayne, composed by Johannes Ciconia, represents the Renaissance innovation in the current Belgium. Ciconia was born in Flanders, a region with a strong bond to Florence, where the rediscovery of Classicism began. He travelled throughout Europe and, coming into contact with a lot of composers, he learned in particular the Ars Nova style. The piece is in late medieval style approaching the Renaissance one, according to the Ars Subtilior, characterized by a rhythmic complexity with a lot of syncopations and canons.

Johannes Ciconia - Sus una fontayne

The piece Par les bons Gédéons et Sanson délivré, composed by Philipoctus da Caserta, has been chosen as an accompaniment for the reading of the Oratio de hominis dignitate because the author was one of the most important composer of the italian Renaissance. In this composition he inserted Renaissance musical elements, like canons, sung in particular by the first voice. Philipoctus da Caserta became an important musician also for his music treatises.

Philipoctus da Caserta -Par les bons Gedeons et Sanson delivré