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Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Recto: The bladder. Verso: The lungs c.1508

Recto: Black chalk, Pen and ink. Verso: Traces of black chalk, pen and ink | 19.4 x 14.2 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 919054

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

    Recto: two studies showing the kidneys; three views of the bladder and urethra; a detail of the entry of the ureter into the bladder; a faint drawing of the organs; notes on the drawings. The page is headed ‘Demonstration of the bladder of man’: it is one of the more formal and complete of Leonardo’s anatomical sheets, and hints at how a page of his projected treatise might have appeared. The drawings are considered from left to right:

    "First demonstration
    Of these three demonstrations of the bladder, in the first is drawn the ureters and how they leave the kidneys L h, and are joined to the bladder two fingers higher than the beginning of the neck of the bladder; and a little inside this junction these ureters pour urine into the bladder from p b into n f in the way drawn alongside, in the channel s, whence it is then poured through the pipe off the penis. It remains for me to draw and describe the situation of the muscles which open and close the passage of the urine into the mouth of the neck of the bladder.

    Second demonstration
    In the second demonstration are drawn the four ramifications, that is the veins, right and left, which nourish the bladder, and the arteries, right and left, which give it life, that is, spirit; and the vein always lies above the artery.

    Third demonstration
    In the third demonstration is described the way the vein and artery go round the origin of the ureter m n at the position n."

    The central drawing makes clear that Leonardo understood the blood supply as rising to the bladder wall along the line of the urethra. He presumably began the dissection from the exterior along the penis, and he may have found a minor connection from the testicular artery which would appear to course up and onto the bladder as he depicted – his dissection technique was good enough to observe fine vessels around the entrance of the ureters into the bladder. Somehow Leonardo missed the principal blood supply to the bladder, the superior and inferior vesical arteries.

    Verso: a study of the thoracic and abdominal organs, probably of a pig, separated by the diaphragm and related to the spinal column; the structure of the lungs seen from the front; notes on the drawings.

    These schematic images of the lungs attempt to convey the branching of the bronchi within the lungs. This branching is not visible on the surface of the lungs, and the drawings must be understood as an attempt to portray the system rather than the appearance of the lung.

    It is not easy to comprehend the structure of the unfixed lung. The trachea divides into the two main bronchi much lower down than Leonardo has shown, between the lungs at the level of the sternal angle. These main bronchi then split into a number of secondary bronchi – in the human, three on the right and two on the left – which in turn split into tertiary bronchi, each of which supplies a bronchopulmonary segment. The drawings demonstrate that Leonardo appreciated the lobed structure of the lungs, but the relationship between these lobes and the branching of the bronchi is not even hinted at.

    The study on the left shows the area from the front. To either side of the trachea are vessels standing for the common carotid arteries and their branching in the neck. The lungs are rendered semi-transparent to show the heart, oesophagus, aorta and vena cava, with hepatic veins travelling to the vena cava. In the drawing on the right, which shows the area from the right side of the body, Leonardo has labelled the structures – polmone (lung), feghato (liver), stomaccho, milza (spleen), diaflamma (diaphragm) and spina – with a key to the the structures of the neck – trachea, meri (oesophagus), ipopletiche (carotids), spina again, and spondili (vertebral processes). The length of these processes and the multiple lobes of the liver suggest that the subject of Leonardo’s dissection was a pig, a favoured animal for anatomical investigation throughout the ages. He does not mention the animal in his notes on this page, but on another page in the manuscript (RCIN 919034) he stated that ‘the enlargement of the lung when it is filled with air is latitudinal and not in its length, as can be seen by inflating the lung of a pig.’

    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

    Recto: Black chalk, Pen and ink. Verso: Traces of black chalk, pen and ink


    19.4 x 14.2 cm (sheet of paper)

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