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Scale and proportion are relational elements of art and design.

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What Is Scale?

In art and design, the principle of scale refers to the relative size of one object compared to another, typically the size of the artwork to the viewer’s body. Scale can also refer to the size relationships of different visuals within a singular piece of art.

What Is the Hieratic Scale?

The hieratic scale is an artistic technique in which the most essential object in a painting or sculpture is the largest. The hieratic scale originated with the ancient Egyptians, beginning in 3,000 BCE when pharaohs were depicted as physically larger than lower-status people. In the Middle Ages, artists commonly portrayed Christ and the Virgin Mary as larger than surrounding angels or humans.

What Is Proportion?

Proportion in art and design refers to the different sizes of the individual parts that make up one object. For example, proportions in visual art are essential when drawing the human figure—realistic human proportions make for a more lifelike portrayal. In contrast, unrealistic proportions create a more cartoonish or abstract look.

Artists from the ancient Greeks onward have used the golden ratio (also known as the golden mean) to help create the most aesthetically pleasing images. The golden ratio is approximately 1 to 1.618. Leonardo da Vinci used the golden ratio to calculate the perfect proportions in the human body to create his work of art, the Vitruvian Man (1490).

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How to Use Scale in Art and Sculpture

In fine art and sculpture, the use of scale focuses on the physical size of the artwork relative to the human body—whether the work is human-scale, small-scale, or monumental scale. When constructing a painting or sculpture, it is essential to consider how the viewer will experience it.

Michelangelo's David (1504), located in Florence, is an example of a large-scale sculpture of a man that towers over the viewer, inspiring awe and a sense of grandeur. Contemporary artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's pop art sculpture Spoonbridge and Cherry depicts a gigantic spoon and cherry, making the viewer reconsider these small, ordinary objects. Other modern art pieces use small-scale works to force viewers to pay closer attention to details, such as Alan Wolfson's miniature contemporary art sculptures of New York City.