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The afterlife of Leonardo's anatomical studies

This is the leather binding of the album made up for Pompeo Leoni in the late sixteenth century to house over 500 of Leonardo’s drawings, including all the anatomical studies now known. The album was brought to England, probably by the agents of Tho

The Leoni binding ©

In September 1513, Leonardo left Lombardy for Rome. He tried to resume his anatomical studies there, but was apparently accused of unseemly practices and prevented from performing any further dissections. In 1516 Leonardo moved to France to work as court artist to King Francis I, and died in 1519 without returning to his anatomical studies.

Leonardo left his papers to his assistant Francesco Melzi. Though the anatomical drawings were remarked upon by all Leonardo’s early biographers, their dense and disorganised content was barely comprehended, and they were effectively lost to the world.

Around 1580, Leonardo’s papers were bought by the sculptor Pompeo Leoni, who bound them into several albums. One of these albums, containing all of Leonardo’s surviving anatomical studies (together with hundreds of other drawings), was acquired for the Royal Collection by 1690. The binding, now empty, is presented here.

It was not until 1900 that Leonardo’s anatomical drawings were finally published and understood. By then their power to affect the course of anatomical knowledge had long passed. But their lucidity and insight still speak to us today, and mark Leonardo out as one of the greatest scientists of the Renaissance.