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Latitudes of the body

Human-Based Measurement and its Contexts, from Leonardo to Newton (1400-1700)

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Published on Tuesday, March 16, 2021


While strongly rooted in the Center for the study of medicine and the body in the Renaissance (CSMBR) intellectual history tradition, the summer school will present and discuss a variety of verbal and non-verbal sources (e.g. manuscripts, images, music pieces, and artefacts) in a multidisciplinary approach that aims at attracting and welcoming scholars with different backgrounds, interests and expertise.


21-24 July 2021, Domus Comeliana – Pisa


The 2021 CSMBR Summer School will explore theories, applications, problems, and contexts of human-based measurements across the late medieval and early modern period (c.1400-1700). It builds upon four strictly related questions:

  • How was it like experiencing the world before the advent of universally standardised measurement?
  • What role did the human body, its limbs and the five senses play in defining spaces, distances, values, lists of objects, schemes and prices?
  • How were systems of human-based measurement affected by the advent of early modern technology?
  • To what extent can we replace human-based and value-laden measurement with technology-based parameters?

These questions will be addressed both in presentations and roundtables by focusing on three main themes, namely

  • the Body as a Canon and its Proportions
  • the Body as  a Unit of Measurement: Place, Space, and Orientation
  • the Body as a Unit of Value: Quality and Price

Under each headline speakers will be discussing how the three-dimensionality of the body and its limbs affected theories of proportion (Galen, Leonardo, Dürer, Vesalius, Valverde, Palladio, etc.) as well as the shaping of architectural and urban spaces in normal and pathological conditions (e.g. homes, temples, hospices, pharmacies, hospitals and areas of confinement); the methods and orders of dissection and their impact on learned representations of the body (Berengario da Carpi, Charles Estienne, Bassiano Landi, Vesalius, Van Spiegel, Acquapendente, Willis, Boerhaave, etc.). Particular attention will be devoted to the five senses and to the way the sense of taste defined values of quality/purity and, accordingly, prices of foodstuff on the market (drugs, spices, etc.), how the mapping of colours and shades helped classifying substances (uroscopy, classification of mixtures); how the anatomy of the eye was related to the definition of “visual space” in the perception of external objects, the development of acoustics and harmonics in relation to the anatomy of the ear as well as, more generally, how philosophical theories of natural space (locus) and spatial orientation developed side by side with an analysis of sense-perception. Special emphasis shall also be laid on how units of measure in terms of inches, palms, fathoms, and feet were relevant in the making of maps, astronomical observations and diagrams of latitude as well as on the relation between heartbeat and time, in medicine as well as in music.

List of the possible topics to be discussed per day:

 Day 1 – The Body as a Canon and its Proportions

  • The ‘Homo Vitruvianus’: Sources, Applications, Developments
  • Canon and Temperament (in light of Galen’s De usu partium and De optima corporis nostri constitutione its tradition, translation and other similar medical treatises)
  • Body-Statue Proportions (Brunelleschi, Alberti, Leonardo)
  • Ideal Cities as Ideal bodies (all related themes)
  • The Architecture of the Healthy and Diseased Body (e.g. houses, hospitals, pharmacies, spaces of confinement, etc.)

Day 2 – The Body as a Unit of Measurement

  • Units of Measurements (inches, fingers, palms, cubits, arms, feet, steps, degrees) and their import in the description of objects, maps, market lists and diagrams.
  • Diagrams of Latitude and Scientific Diagrams.
  • Astronomical Observations before and after the Pendulum
  • Feeling the Pulse, methods and forms of quantification
  • Rhythms of the Heart: Time in Music
  • Measurements of Vital Phenomena (e.g. technology in medicine, from the pulsilogium onwards)

Day 3 – The Body as a Unit of Value

  • The Eye and the Perception of External Objects
  • Measuring by Colour: Classification of Humours by Shades in Alchemy and Uroscopy
  • Taste and Price: Tasteful qualities as Units of Value (i.e. purity/impurity, brilliancy, smell, Colour etc.)
  • Hearing: Issues in Acoustics and Harmonics as linked to the human perception of sound
  • Order and Method in Anatomy (with special reference to length of the organs and the spatial method of dissection: “a capite ad cor, a corde infra”)
  • Physical Orientation and Perception of External Objects in EM Natural Philosophy (Aristotelianism, Platonism, as well as individual authors i.e. Gassendi, Locke, Leibniz, Kant)

Day 4 – Workshops and Labs

  • Discussion of attendees’ papers (5-7 min each followed by discussion)
  • Philology Lab: Situs, Figura, Numerus in EM Anatomical Mss (Stolberg)
  • 4 Round tables (30 min each) discussing music tracks, images, and artefacts
  • Tech Lab: Applications of Santorio’s Pulsilogium (Barry and Bigotti)

Keynote Speakers

  • Martin KEMP – Oxford University
  • Michael STOLBERG – Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg 
  • Giulia Martina WESTON – The Courtauld Institute of Art


  • Fabrizio BIGOTTI – Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance (CSMBR), Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, University of Exeter


The summer school spans four days, articulated as 3+1, namely three days of lectures plus a final day entirely dedicated to roundtables and to the discussion of presentations from attendees (see below). To these, two workshops are added: the former (late morning) shall focus on reading and interpreting manuscript sources relevant to the visualisation of the body (Stolberg), the latter (late afternoon) will be devoted to hands-on experimentation with replicas of early modern instruments (esp. Santorio’s pulsilogium).

To engage fully with the speakers during this four-day experience, attendees are strongly invited to elaborate their own contributions on the topics discussed, either in the form of PowerPoint presentations and/or as short papers (max. 5 min). These will be followed by thematic roundtables focusing on the analysis of non-verbal sources, including relevant artefacts, images, videos, and music tracks.

Roundtables topics can also be proposed by the attendees upon reaching an agreement amongst not less than 3 people interested.  For organisational reasons, only two such round tables can be proposed and must be communicated to the panel at least 3 weeks prior to the official beginning of the Summer School.

Registration Process

The summer school is open to students and scholars at all stages of their career. Sources will be pre-circulated in order for attendees to engage fruitfully in conversation with speakers in roundtables at the end of the fourth day. Small presentations (no longer than 5-7 minutes each) are also welcome.

Participation is permitted both in presence and online. For further information visit: https://csmbr.fondazionecomel.org/ or email: info@csmbr.fondazionecomel.org 

The summer school is open to students and scholars at all stages of their career. Sources will be pre-circulated in order for attendees to engage fruitfully in conversation with speakers in roundtables at the end of the fourth day. Small presentations (no longer than 5-7 minutes each) are also welcome.

The registration form can be completed online (here). The venue of the event is the Domus Comeliana.

    Early Bird Registration (15th January – 31st March) = € 390 in presence*, € 190 online**

    Regular Registration (1st April – 20th July) = € 490  in presence*, € 240 online**

* In-presence participation fees are inclusive of all the costs for breaks and lunches at the Domus Comeliana plus the final dinner and an extra two guided tours to the Campo dei Miracoli and Palazzo dei Cavalieri in Pisa. Please note that, out of safety concerns and organisational reasons, the number of attendees is limited to a maximum of 20 persons.

**Please note that online participation in workshops and roundtables will be limited


  • Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance (CSMBR) - Via Cardinale Pietro Maffi, 48
    Pisa, Italian Republic (56126)


  • Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Attached files


  • Leonardo, Vesalius, Measurement, CSMBR


  • Fabrizio Bigotti
    courriel : fb [at] csmbr [dot] fondazionecomel [dot] org

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Fabrizio Bigotti
    courriel : fb [at] csmbr [dot] fondazionecomel [dot] org


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Latitudes of the body », Summer School, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, https://doi.org/10.58079/1686

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