Antique Anatomy

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Da Vinci, Leonardo

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (Italian pronunciation: [leoˈnardo da vˈvintʃi]  [About this sound]  pronunciation (help·info); 15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519, Old Style) was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. His genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of theRenaissance Man, a man of "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination".[1] He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.[2]According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent and "his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote".[1] Marco Rosci states that while there is much speculation about Leonardo, his vision of the world is essentially logical rather than mysterious, and that the empirical methods he employed were unusual for his time.[3]

Born out of wedlock to a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant woman, Caterina, in Vinci in the region of Florence, Leonardo was educated in the studio of the renowned Florentine painter Verrocchio. Much of his earlier working life was spent in the service of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna and Venice, and he spent his last years in France at the home awarded him by Francis I.

Leonardo was, and is, renowned primarily as a painter. Among his works, the Mona Lisa is the most famous and most parodied portrait[4] and The Last Supper the most reproduced religious painting of all time, with their fame approached only by Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam.[1] Leonardo's drawing of the Vitruvian Man is also regarded as a cultural icon,[5] being reproduced on items as varied as the euro coin, textbooks, and T-shirts. Perhaps fifteen of his paintings have survived, the small number because of his constant, and frequently disastrous, experimentation with new techniques, and his chronic procrastination.[nb 1] Nevertheless, these few works, together with his notebooks, which contain drawings, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting, compose a contribution to later generations of artists rivalled only by that of his contemporary, Michelangelo.

Leonardo is revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualised flying machines, an armoured vehicle,concentrated solar power, an adding machine,[6] and the double hull, also outlining a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or were even feasible during his lifetime,[nb 2] but some of his smaller inventions, such as an automated bobbin winder and a machine for testing the tensile strength of wire, entered the world of manufacturing unheralded.[nb 3] He made important discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, optics, andhydrodynamics, but he did not publish his findings and they had no direct influence on later science.[7]


Leonardo's formal training in the anatomy of the human body began with his apprenticeship to Andrea del Verrocchio, who insisted that all his pupils learn anatomy. As an artist, he quickly became master of topographic anatomy, drawing many studies of muscles, tendons and other visible anatomical features.

As a successful artist, he was given permission to dissect human corpses at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence and later at hospitals in Milan and Rome. From 1510 to 1511 he collaborated in his studies with the doctor Marcantonio della Torre. Leonardo made over 240 detailed drawings and wrote about 13,000 words towards a treatise on anatomy.[94] These papers were left to his heir, Francesco Melzi, for publication, a task of overwhelming difficulty because of its scope and Leonardo's idiosyncratic writing.[95] It was left incomplete at the time of Melzi's death more than fifty years later, with only a small amount of the material on anatomy included in Leonardo's Treatise on painting, published in France in 1632.[17][95]During the time that Melzi was ordering the material into chapters for publication, they were examined by a number of anatomists and artists, including Vasari, Cellini and Albrecht Dürer who made a number of drawings from them.[95]

Leonardo's anatomical drawings include many studies of the human skeleton and its parts, and studies muscles and sinews. He studied the mechanical functions of the skeleton and the muscular forces that are applied to it in a manner that prefigured the modern science of biomechanics.[96] He drew the heart and vascular system, the sex organs and other internal organs, making one of the first scientific drawings of a fetus in utero.[85] The drawings and notation are far ahead of their time, and if published, would undoubtedly have made a major contribution to medical science.[94][97]

As an artist, Leonardo also closely observed and recorded the effects of age and of human emotion on the physiology, studying in particular the effects of rage. He also drew many figures who had significant facial deformities or signs of illness.[17][85] Leonardo also studied and drew the anatomy of many animals, dissecting cows, birds, monkeys, bears, and frogs, and comparing in his drawings their anatomical structure with that of humans. He also made a number of studies of horses.[85]