Q: Dr. Eppley, I am interested in rhinoplasty surgery and have been studying face and body proportions. Does the master sculptors of the Middle Ages use a formula in order to determine the length of the face in a statue? Was it one-eighth the height of the statue?
A: The use of numerous face and body proportions, often called the classical canons, comes from figure drawing and sculpture. Such concepts are based on ancient history that goes back as far as over 3,000 years ago. Clearly there are subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences between people and their features, but there is a fairly standard range of human proportions that seem to be most aesthetically pleasing. Artists and sculptors have made numerous attempts to put these to numbers and ratios and this forms the basis of almost accepted human proportions today. More scientific anthropometric studies have been done more recently and these have established some variations amongst ethnicity and gender. Most artistic body proportions are based on how they relate to the length of the head. Using the head as a unit of measurement, the height of the person is ideally at 8 heads tall. Thus your question of whether the length of the face was ‘one-eighth the height of the statue’ is correct by human drawing standards.
But I would be careful about trying to extrapolate any of this to plastic surgery and specifically rhinoplasty. These proportions were really established so that artists and sculptors could create a figure and face that was proportionate…and humans have a very difficult time drawing proportionate anatomical structures as there is nothing innate about doing so. Trying to translate these concepts to surgery is far more difficult and often unrealistic as people do not develop and grow in perfect proportions and there is a limited range of surgical changes that can be done to make them so.
Dr. Barry Eppley