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Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

The bones and muscles of the shoulder (recto); the superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck (verso) c.1510-11

Black chalk, pen and ink, wash | 28.9 x 19.8 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 919001

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  • A folio from Leonardo's 'Anatomical Manuscript A'.

    Recto: a dissection and schematic drawing of the shoulder seen from behind and two dissections from above; all show the attachment of the muscles; three small studies of the left ankle and foot, including one of the bones showing movements of the ankle.

    The drawings show the bones and muscles of the right shoulder from behind and above. In the largest drawing, at upper centre, deltoid and a portion of trapezius have been lifted away to show the ‘ball’ of the head of the humerus sitting in the ‘socket’ of the glenoid fossa. Leonardo’s anatomical acuity is demonstrated by his illustration of part of the coracoclavicular ligament, just next to the conoid tubercle of the clavicle; but (as throughout the manuscript) he shows a narrowing of the clavicle beyond the conoid tubercle, and a strange articulation between the clavicle and the acromion, with the entire curved end of the clavicle as a ‘ball’ fitting into an extensive shallow ‘socket’ on the acromion. This is quite incorrect, and possibly the ligaments of the acromioclavicular joint had obscured the articulation during the course of a dissection. The ‘thread diagram’ at centre right shows the same region, with deltoid and trapezius in place, and all the muscles reduced to cords.

    In the drawing at centre left, although ostensibly a view from directly above, Leonardo turns the scapula forward so that subscapularis can be seen (o n m). The tip of the coracoid process appears spatulate (flattened) with the short head of biceps and four tabs radiating from its anterior aspect: the tab to the right is probably coracobrachialis, the other three probably pectoralis minor. The two heads of biceps meet in a long ‘v’ with the apex towards the elbow.The drawing at lower right shows the structure from the same angle, with the humerus now pulled from glenoid fossa. The four tabs on the head of the humerus represent the muscles of the ‘rotator cuff’ – subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus and teres minor. The two heads of biceps are seen, on the superior aspect of the glenoid fossa and on the coracoid process (with tabs again representing pectoralis minor).


    Verso: two studies of the head, neck and thorax of a man, facing to the right, with the right arm outstretched; the neck, thorax and right arm of a man, facing right; three-quarters front view of the head, neck, thorax and arm of a man; two studies of a right shoulder from the front, and another of the same subject above them.

    These drawings run as a sequence from upper right, turning the body slowly in space to end with a frontal dissected view at the bottom of the sheet. While one must be wary of reading Leonardo’s anatomical drawings as simple depictions of what he had in front of him, the sensitivity of surface modelling strongly suggests that they were made from the life – though the convincing manner in which Leonardo shows the skin stripped from the living muscles in the last drawing emphasises his powers of visualisation. Leonardo was aware that in death the muscles are fully relaxed, and that to obtain a true knowledge of their form he had to observe them in the living.

    The final drawing shows pectoralis major (running from the chest across to the humerus) again divided into fascicles. While it is not unusual to see a difference in the clavicular, sternal and costal portions of that muscle, this degree of fasciculation is highly unnatural. Dissection of unfixed tissue may lead to the accidental separation of a muscle into strands, whereas fixation hardens the muscle fibres and accentuates the fascia that separates the individual muscles. Leonardo believed that, with enlargement, muscles could fuse, and with atrophy they could separate; and indeed, in the extremely lean individuals that Leonardo liked to draw, muscles can appear fasciculated due to loss of muscle mass. But here and elsewhere he divided the muscle primarily for didactic purposes, to emphasise its different portions and range of attachment, as a compromise between a ‘realistic’ depiction and the schematisation of his ‘thread diagrams’. Thus Leonardo could show clearly, for example, that the clavicular portion of pectoralis major inserts further down the humerus than the sternal and costal portions. Between the fenestrations in pectoralis major one may also glimpse neurovascular components running from the brachial plexus, and pectoralis minor passing upwards from the third, fourth and fifth ribs to its attachment on the coracoid process of the scapula.

    Text from M. Clayton and R. Philo, Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist, London 2012

    Bequeathed to Francesco Melzi; from whose heirs purchased by Pompeo Leoni, c.1582-90; Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel, by 1630; probably acquired by Charles II; Royal Collection by 1690

  • Medium and techniques

    Black chalk, pen and ink, wash


    28.9 x 19.8 cm (sheet of paper)