You know the drawing: a male nude facing front, becurled and muscular, with two sets of arms and legs, one touching the circumference of a circle, the other the sides of a square. In “Da Vinci’s Ghost,” the journalist Toby Lester peers closely at Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man” — its origins, its meaning and the circumstances of the artist who drew it.

It’s called “Vitruvian Man” because the idea for it came from “Ten Books on Architecture,” written by a Roman military engineer named Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. For the Romans, architecture meant proportion, which meant the body.

“No temple can be put together coherently,” Vitruvius wrote, “unless it conforms exactly to the principle relating the members of a well-shaped man.” He elaborated:

“If a man were placed on his back with his hands and feet outspread, and the point of a compass put on his navel, both his fingers and his toes would be touched by the line of the circle going around him.”

Similarly, for a perfectly proportioned man with feet together and hands outspread (a posture that later would inevitably betoken the crucified Christ), “you would find the breadth the same as the height, just as in areas that have been squared with a set square.”

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