Leonardo: the artist as anatomist

The skull sectioned 1489, courtesy Royal Collection The skull sectioned 1489, courtesy Royal Collection

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This was not like any display of anatomy I'd ever witnessed. Nearly 90 exquisite pen and ink drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.

They are about to go on display at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

They reveal many aspects of Leonardo's genius. Of course there is his extraordinary artistic skill. How many drawings of a dissected body could be regarded as works of artistic beauty?

His knowledge of architecture and engineering encouraged him to present the body from every angle - plan and elevation - layer upon layer.

Several of the drawings remind me of MRI scans - a succession of images which reveal the body in all its three-dimensional complexity.

We are fortunate that all but one of Leonardo's studies of the human body are in the Royal Collection. No-one is entirely sure how they got there, only that they were in royal hands in London in 1690, bound in a single volume.

Martin Clayton, the exhibition curator, says they were probably bought or given to Charles II some years earlier. Their usual home is at Windsor Castle.

If you missed my report on the Six O'Clock TV news, you can watch it below. The second bit of video is Martin Clayton showing me a few of his favourites from the exhibition.

Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist, the Queen's Gallery Buckingham Palace 4 May - 7 October.

Da Vinci has long been recognised as a great artist but he was also a pioneer in the study of the human body

Martin Clayton, senior curator of the Royal Collection, shows Fergus Walsh some of the exhibition highlights

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    An extraordinary and multi-talented genius. Every child, in formal education or not, should be given and encouraged to access his work.

    The study of human anatomy and physiology in formal education is poor - it should have more emphasis than biology on curriculums. Splicing a frog teaches you little about your own body.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Da Vinci's anatomical studies/drawing were unparalleled as he used the principles of architecture & engineering to make his drawings & observations. From architecture, he took principles of elevation, plan & section, from engineering he took the “exploded view,” pulling elements apart to show how they fit together.
    Simply amazing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Multi-talented Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) - primarily known as a painter - but exhibition at the Buckingham Palace of his studies of the human body demonstrate genius as an human anatomist. The largest-ever exhibition of Da Vinci’s anatomical work, features 87 pages from his notebooks, including 24 sides of previously unexhibited material.



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