Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities


Published in December, 2019





The year 2019 celebrates the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest painters and polymaths of all time. Born near Florence in 1452, he moved to Milan at age thirty, but towards the end of his life (1516) was recruited by King Francis I to move to France. He died in the Castle of Amboise three years later on 2 May 1519. An unverified story tells that he died in the arms of his patron and protector, King Francis. We honor the achievements of this great man by reprinting several articles published about him in our journal.





Leonardo da Vinci was a “Renaissance man” in the truest sense, contributing his inexhaustible talent to many fields, including anatomy. In a time when medicine was still rudimentary and dissection was viewed with disdain, Leonardo plowed through with his keen intellectual curiosity and honed draughtsman skills. His work on anatomy can grossly be divided into two stages: his earlier artistic pieces and his later analytical studies.1 Leonardo’s earliest studies focused on illustrating ancient texts and indulging in anatomical explanations of metaphysics; he was concerned with the soul and the eye as a means to both localize the soul and better understand artistic perspective. His later scientific blossoming drove his interest in observational description of the human body, its function, and its relation to the world. Leonardo’s growth from metaphysics toward a more empirical science informed not only his drawing style, but also the content and presentation of his anatomical works.



By Julia King






Leonardo Anatomy1

Anatomy sketches


Applying himself to the study of anatomy, “Leonardo composed a book annotated in pen and ink in which he did meticulous drawings in red chalk of bodies he had dissected himself. He showed all the bone structure, adding in order all the nerves and covering them with muscles: the first attached to the skeleton, the second that hold it firm, and the third that moved it. In the various sections he wrote his observations in puzzling characters (written in reverse with the left hand) which cannot be deciphered by anyone who does not know the trick of reading them in a mirror . . . Reading Leonardo’s writings one is astonished at the brilliant way in which this inspired artist discussed so thoroughly art and anatomy (the muscles, nerves, and veins) and indeed every kind of subject.”


Leonardo anatomy 2
By George Dunea READ ARTICLE



The Foetus in the Womb, c. 1511; Royal Collection, The Windsor Castle When Vesalius started his life journey five hundred years ago, Leonardo Da Vinci’s own journey into the human body was symbolically coming to an end. Denounced by a German collaborator for necromancy, he would eventually be barred by the Church from even entering the Ospedale di Santo Spirito under accusations of “heresy and cynical dissection of cadavers.”1 Soon thereafter he would accept the invitation of Francis I and move to France, one of the first in a long line of bright Italians forced to die on foreign soil. He would never dissect again.

Leonardo’s exploration of the “meravigliosa macchina umana”2 spanned forty years, entailed the study of more than thirty men, women, and children,3 and left us with hundreds of breathtakingly beautiful drawings. They are the congealed thoughts of a brain that always thought in pictures, but also show us that the boundaries between art and science are illusory. In fact, Leonardo would have laughed at C.P. Snow’s idea of the “two cultures,” since he considered himself a humanist who happened to be both a scientist and an artist. Or, as he put it in his notebooks, someone adept at “the science of art and the art of science.”2


By Salvatore Mangione




Leonardo Da Vinci had one of the greatest minds in history. Accomplished in so many fields of both the arts and science, he challenged contemporary thinking, and was one of the early Renaissance artists to use dissection of corpses in order to understand the human form. His anatomical drawings reveal a sublime talent at drawing what he saw and showing how the human body was assembled. He demonstrated the framework of bones held together by ligaments, the layers of muscle that connected to tendons to make the joints move, and the network of nerves and blood vessels. Although he could not determine much more about physiology than joint mechanics (he was also an engineer), his drawings show a deep understanding of human anatomy. In this light, however, his depiction of the uterus is astounding. His most famous image of female anatomy is of a pregnant uterus with a mid or late trimester fetus inside (figure). While there is nothing wrong with the depiction of the fetus, there is a problem with the uterus. It is a perfect sphere. Why would Leonardo draw the uterus as a perfect sphere?


By John Massie





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