Our royal connection to Leonardo, the anatomist

How does anatomy in the 1500s compare with anatomy studies in the 21st Century?

Professor Peter Abrahams, Professor of Clinical Anatomy at Warwick Medical School , was asked that very question when he was invited to comment on the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci which are held in the Royal Collection.

Professor Peter Abrahams had the honour of being asked to contribute to the audio guide for the new Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist exhibition which opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, on 4 May.

This is the largest-ever exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s ground-breaking collection of anatomical drawings. The studies, which are kept at Windsor Castle, remained largely undiscovered until the 20th Century when they were a revelation for medics and anatomists. The audio guide is narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi and features Peter, alongside other medical experts, as they comment on the anatomical accuracy of the 500-year-old drawings.

Leonardo has long been recognised as one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance. However, Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist will reveal him to be one of the most original and perceptive anatomists of all time. His discoveries would have transformed European knowledge of the subject, but their significance remained lost to the world until the 20th century.

Working in hospitals and medical schools, Leonardo undertook dissections to investigate bones, muscles, vessels and organs, recording them with unparalleled clarity. Despite his intention to publish his work, on his death in 1519 his anatomical studies still remained among his private papers. These papers were pasted into albums by the artist’s successors, and one of the albums, containing all of Leonardo’s surviving anatomical studies, arrived in England in the 17th century. It was probably acquired by Charles II and has been in the Royal Collection since at least 1690.

Professor Abrahams was thrilled and honoured to have the opportunity to participate: “I would say that this is one of the most exciting things I have done in my career. The drawings are unbelievable; they are an anatomist’s dream. It’s hard to believe they are 500 years old and yet the amazing thing is that the capture of anatomical detail is still completely relevant - he even anticipated our modern views seen in scanners today.”

Listen to Professor Abrahams’ audio guide: www.royalcollection.­org.uk/exhibitions/leonardo-da-vinci-anatomist/peter-abrahams

 
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