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Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

The bones and muscles of the leg (recto); The muscles of the shoulder, arm and neck (verso) c.1510-11

Black chalk, pen and ink, wash | 28.8 x 20.2 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 919008

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

    Recto: five studies of the bones of the leg and foot; a drawing of the knee joint and patella; two studies of the bones of a right leg with the knee flexed; the muscles of a right buttock, thigh and calf. The notes to these studies discuss three of the mechanisms of the leg: the dynamics of the Achilles tendon; the role of the knee-cap; and the stabilizing action of the mutually opposed muscles on either side of the leg.

    The notes on this page reveal that Leonardo was concerned with three of the mechanisms of the leg, though the shapes of the bones themselves are the most prominent topic of the drawings. The talocrural (ankle) joint is well shown, with the mortice formed by the lower heads of the tibia and fibula fitting onto the talus of the ankle (the tarsal bones of the foot are drawn as a single unit). The slightly enlarged upper head of the fibula and the blunted appearance of the styloid processes at the end of the tibia and fibula may have resulted from using freshly prepared bones with portions of ligaments and cartilage remaining, rather than dried bones.

    The drawing at upper right, together with the note running through the centre of the sheet, examines the dynamics of the calcaneal (Achilles) tendon, through which the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the calf act on the calcaneus (heel-bone). By a simple proportional calculation, Leonardo stated that the distance from the axis of the ankle to the ball of the foot is twice the distance to the end of the calcaneus, and thus to raise a man of 200 pounds on the ball of one foot requires a pull of 400 pounds – his appreciation of the large forces within the body required to perform a simple action is implicit. This action is studied again, though with the proportions of the ‘lever’ expressed differently, on RCIN 919010v.

    Leonardo considers the role of the patella as a sesamoid bone, observing that it connects the muscles rectus femoris, vastus lateralis and vastus medialis with the patellar tendon in the lower leg. A note discusses the lengthening of the surface of the leg in flexion, paralleling the observations on the arm on 919000v. Although there is no equivalent of the patella at the elbow, the fact that on 919005v Leonardo calls the olecranon ‘the moveable bone of the elbow’ suggests that he was trying to find an equivalence between the knee and elbow.

    The third action to be analysed is more problematic. In the drawings at upper and lower centre Leonardo drew threads to indicate the antagonistic action of muscles on either side of the leg. While the insertions indicated correspond to semimembranosus on the inside of the leg and biceps femoris on the outside, the origins of those muscles lie on the pelvis and not at the head of the femur. When the leg is semiflexed, as in the two drawings below, it is true that contraction of one of these muscles will cause some rotation of the tibia at the knee, but it is surprising that Leonardo chose to highlight this rather than the much more significant actions of flexion and extension.


    Verso: three studies of neck muscles, seen from the back; four studies of the neck, chest and right arm, showing muscles; a slight geometrical diagram demonstrating the rotation of the arm; some notes on the drawings.

    This page should be seen with 919005v - together the two sheets comprise a sequence of eight drawings in which Leonardo turned the shoulder and arm from a fully anterior view (at far right) to a fully posterior view. The small star-shaped diagram and accompanying note at lower right here explain Leonardo’s intention of depicting the arm through 360° from eight aspects, but the two pages together provide an even more finely divided set of depictions, eight aspects in 180°. There are, as always, a few idiosyncrasies, but the drawings and notes reveal a profound understanding of the muscles of the shoulder and upper arm. Medical illustration has never produced images to surpass those on this sheet, and had Leonardo published his researches, as was clearly in the forefront of his mind at this time, the results would have been truly groundbreaking.

    Most of the superficial muscles of the arm and shoulder can be identified . While pectoralis major is here shown as a single muscle, the deltoid (forming the rounded upper contour of the shoulder) is as usual depicted as a compound structure comprising distinct sets of fibres. Likewise, the superior portions of the trapezius muscle, running upwards from the spine of the scapula, appear to be separate.

    The three brief drawings at the top of the page illustrate the layers of muscles attached to the spinous processes of the neck; this region was studied in much more detail on 919015r.

    Texts adapted 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


    28.8 x 20.2 cm (sheet of paper)