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Why do many Greek sculptures or Renaissance paintings have people with extra-long second toes

This condition was believed to be a sign of devine proportion, but actually is a foot bone structure issue.

Maybe you have seen it before either in sculptures, paintings, or even ancient drawings. The people depicted in most of the classical Greek and Renaissance art have this extra-long second toe and you wonder, why? Well, it turns out that this is not a mistake, but something related to the divine proportions Greeks believed in and that later, turned out to be a true medical condition.

One of the clearest examples of this could be Venus de Milo in “Birth of the Venus”, Botticelli’s painting that was once considered the ideal female form in the Renaissance, but with her second toes sticking out past her shorter big toes. Another could be Leonardo DaVinci’s famous Vitruvian Man, whose long second toes align perfectly with the circle drawn around him. But why?

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The Golden Ratio

Depicting a longer second toe for Classica Greek period artists and later on the Renaissance was not a mistake, but a decision influenced by the Golden Ratio, a measurement done by mathematicians in ancient Greece that later resurfaced as a way to prove that there is a divine proportion in nature, including our bodies.

It is believed that the first written account of the Golden Ratio was made by the Greek mathematician Euclid. He suggested that geometric patterns that appear in nature such as seashells o leaves had a close relationship with the divine and perfection.

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Therefore, Greek sculptures tend to have this longer second toe, to make it proportionate to the rest of the body and to fit the ratio in order to make the human body as divine as possible.

Years later, this was embraced by many Renaissance artists like Boticelli and even Leonardo DaVinci.

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The scientific explanation

As anatomical studies began taking place and become more and more evolved, someone noticed that there was actually a condition that caused the second toe to be larger than the rest.

In the early years of the 20th century, Dudley Morton, an American orthopedic surgeon, believed that having this larger toe called Metatarsus atavicus was similar to other body oddities like color blindness or human tails and he believed it was a trait inherited from our pre-human ancestors that helped them swing easily from trees.

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However, this condition, believed to be present in almost 20 percent of the population, also developed orthopedic problems like bunions and hammertoes in modern humans. According to doctors, this causes chronic pain due to body weight being misplaced at the base of the foot rather than directly behind the sturdy big toe.

So, as curious as it looks in art, in real life, it does causes problems and podiatrists recommend using corrective shoes or pads to provide some relief.

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