Scans that prove Leonardo da Vinci was right all along: New show reveals ‘startling accuracy’ of anatomical sketches which lay undiscovered for hundreds of years
The startling accuracy of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings will be highlighted by a new exhibition that compares the artist’s work with modern medical scans.
Long praised as one of the finest artists of the Renaissance era and a visionary inventor, da Vinci’s work as an anatomist was also well ahead of its time.
Da Vinci first began researching the human body to help him keep his paintings as ‘true to nature’ as possible, but the project soon took on a life of its own and he had ambitions to write an illustrated treatise on anatomy.
In the course of his investigations he dissected more than 30 corpses in hospitals and medical schools, filling hundreds of pages of his notebooks with detailed sketches.
Many of them date from the winter of 1510-11, when he dissected some 20 corpses at the medical school of the University of Pavia in collaboration with professor of anatomy Marcantonio della Torre.
On the 18 sheets of what is now known as Leonardo’s Anatomical Manuscript A, the artist crammed more than 240 individual drawings and notes running to more than 13,000 words in his distinctive mirror-writing.
The work, which has never before been shown in its entirety in the UK, covers almost every bone in the body and many major muscle groups.
Comparison with modern day medical scans shows how, despite his limited knowledge of medicine and the limited technology to hand, Da Vinci’s work was nevertheless incredibly accurate.
The artist’s insights could have revolutionised European knowledge of anatomy.
However, on his death in 1519 they remained among his personal papers and did not see the light of day for hundreds of years.
A spokesman for the Royal Collection Trust said: ‘Had they been published at the time, they would undoubtedly have been the most influential work on the human body ever produced.’
Much of the work anticipates 21st-century medical thinking, using the same sequences of images now used to train medics.
He also recorded the muscles of the shoulder and arm in eight different views, rotating the body through 180 degrees.
These drawings will be juxtaposed with a modern animation capturing the same sequence.
Similarly, a 3D film of a dissected shoulder will demonstrate the incredible accuracy of da Vinci’s many drawings of the bones, muscles, nerves and tendons of the shoulder joint, seen from every angle and in every position.
‘This area of the body has a complex range of motion, and Leonardo’s attempts to capture it in two-dimensional drawings are shown to be centuries ahead of his time,’ the spokesman said.
Other exhibition highlights include the first accurate depiction of the spine in history (1510); Leonardo’s notes from his post-mortem dissection of a 100-year-old man (conducted c.1508), in which he gives the first accurate descriptions of cirrhosis of the liver and narrowing of the arteries in the history of medicine; and the iconic and beautiful study of a child in the womb (c.1511), displayed alongside a 3D ultrasound scan of a foetus.