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Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

Recto: The vessels and nerves of the neck. Verso: The vessels of the liver c.1508

RCIN 919051

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Recto: a drawing showing the front view of the blood vessels of the neck; a study of the phrenic or accessory phrenic nerve running between the artery and vein towards the heart; notes on the drawings. Verso: the portal vein and branches of the coeliac artery; the portal vein and its branches; a detail of the liver, the gall bladder, the pylorus, the duodenum and blood vessels; notes on the drawings.

Leonardo had first studied anatomy in the late 1480s. By the end of his life he claimed to have performed 30 human dissections, intending to publish an illustrated treatise on the subject, but this was never completed, and Leonardo’s work thus had no discernible impact on the discipline. His only documented dissection was carried out in the winter of 1507-8, when he performed an autopsy on an old man whose death he had witnessed in a hospital in Florence. The studies on this page from Leonardo’s notebook are based on that dissection: on the verso Leonardo depicts the vessels of the liver; and in notes elsewhere in the notebook he gives the first known clinical description of cirrhosis of the liver.

Text adapted from Leonardo da Vinci, A life in drawing, London, 2018