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Scientific analysis of Leonardo's drawings

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

The cardiovascular system and principal organs of a woman c.1509-10

Black and red chalk, pen and ink, yellow wash, on toned paper, pricked through | 47.6 x 33.2 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 912281

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An anatomical study of the principal organs and the arterial system of a female torso, pricked for transfer.

Leonardo’s 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. In this magnificent drawing Leonardo combined his findings from that dissection with ancient beliefs and animal dissections, in an attempt to depict many of the internal organs in a single diagram – but of a woman rather than a man, with a perfectly spherical uterus.

Leonardo had first studied anatomy in the late 1480s, and he returned to the subject following his work on the Battle of Anghiari (1503-6). By the end of his life he claimed to have performed 30 human dissections. He intended to publish an illustrated treatise on the subject, but this was never completed, and the work of one of the great anatomists of the Renaissance thus had no discernible impact on the discipline.

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