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Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist

Release date: Monday, 30 April 2012


Leonardo da Vinci’s ground-breaking studies of the human body go on display in the largest-ever exhibition of his anatomical work.  The exhibition, which takes place almost 500 years after the artist’s death, shows 87 pages from Leonardo’s notebooks, including 24 sides of previously unexhibited material.  Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, on Friday, 4 May.

Although Leonardo is recognised as one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, he was also one of the most original and perceptive anatomists of all time.  The exhibition tells the story of his greatest challenge, as he embarked upon a campaign of dissection in hospitals and medical schools to investigate bones, muscles, vessels and organs.  Had Leonardo’s studies been published, they would have formed the most influential work on the human body ever produced.  Some of his findings were not to be repeated for hundreds of years.

Among the highlights of the exhibition is a striking, full-frontal image of a skull sectioned.  Produced in 1489, the drawing shows the first human skull Leonardo was able to obtain – prompting him to begin a series of studies contained in the extraordinary notebook known as ‘Anatomical Manuscript B’. 

The most beautiful of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings – a child in breech position in the womb, c.1511 – was based on the dissection of a pregnant cow.  Leonardo almost never used colour in his anatomical drawings, but here uses red chalk to suggest the potential of the living child.  On another drawing, dating from 1509-10, Leonardo has transcribed all of his discoveries to date of the inner workings of the body.  The paper bears his inky thumbprint and the creases from being folded into quarters to fit into his notebook.

Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 4 May – 7 October 2012.

Launched for the exhibition, an iPad app, Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy, brings to life all 268 of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings in the Royal Collection.  The app reverses and translates the thousands of notes made by the artist in his distinctive mirror-writing direct from the pages of his notebook.

Explore the exhibition online.