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Anatomy of a genius

May 6, 2012

A new exhibition explores Leonardo's studies of the human body.

LONDON: Leonardo da Vinci may be best known for painting the world’s most enigmatic smile, but a new exhibition at Buckingham Palace explores the Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, inventor and scientist’s breathtaking anatomical studies of the human body.

“Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist”, which opened on Friday and will run until Oct 7, features 87 anatomical drawings by Leonardo, the largest collection to ever go on show, including a detailed portrayal in red chalk of a child in the breech position and pencil drawings of the human skull.

The body of work, which was never published in the artist’s lifetime, would have made Leonardo one of the greatest Renaissance scientists to this day, said Martin Clayton, exhibition curator at The Queens Gallery.

Leonardo’s desire to be “true to nature” saw the artist dissect 30 corpses and compile hundreds of sheets of drawings of the human body, but his research stayed among his private papers until 1900, when they were finally published and understood by the scientific world.

“Had Leonardo published, he would have been the most important figure ever to publish on human anatomy and we would regard him now on par with Galileo or Newton,” Clayton said.

“Leonardo has a reputation as a great painter who did a bit of science on the side, almost like a hobby. People think of his flying machine and submarine.”

Clayton said the exhibition shows that Leonardo’s work as an anatomist was deeply serious, incredibly detailed and hugely important.

The artist’s drawing of the cardiovascular system was compiled in several stages, sketched first in red and then black chalk, his fingerprints still visible on the paper.

Francis Well, associate lecturer at the University of Cambridge said the 500-year-old drawings are still relevant to modern science.

“Examining these drawings of the heart as a group, and indeed reading the notes, it is extraordinary to think that they are now also 500 years old and yet they still speak to us in current times in a useful way,” Wells said in a press statement.

Leonardo’s drawings have been in the possession of the English monarch’s Royal Collection since 1690.

“I think people are so seduced by Leonardo’s paintings that one will always expect it to be a sell-out exhibition,” Clayton added.

“But this exhibition shows the other side of Leonardo. It shows that as well as being a consummate painter, he was also a great scientist.”—Reuters


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