Leonardo da Vinci Special: Science and Art - Anatomy of an artist

Leonardo da Vinci's drawings inspire even modern scientists

Lucy Keane

To teach medical students about the structure of the human hand, Professor Gus McGrouther could use 3D videos or computer-generated images to illustrate his lectures. Instead, the professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery research at the University of Manchester uses a much more ancient aid: the 500-year-old anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci.

The professor, also a trustee of the Royal College of Surgeons, stumbled across Da Vinci's drawings 30 years ago when he was producing his own medical book on the human thumb, and has been a devotee ever since.

"Leonardo da Vinci shows the anatomy in such a way that it is easy to see it as a machine," Professor McGrouther says. "The tendons, which control muscles, are often drawn as strings, but the effect and demonstration of how they function is so clear."

Now the largest ever exhibition of the artist's studies of the human body will be on show at the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace, London, until 7 October.

Da Vinci was a pioneer in the understanding of the human body. Indeed, if his detailed drawings - taken from the observation of animals, and later also from viewing human corpses, often executed criminals - had not been lost for almost 400 years, the progress of medicine may have been even more rapid.

Through his anatomical studies, Da Vinci tested contemporary theories of ideal proportion, conception and growth, the senses, memory and fantasy, even the soul itself. Working in hospitals and medical schools, he dissected bodies to investigate their bones, muscles, vessels and organs.

But the fact that, with limited access to the human body, Da Vinci still understood the concept of movement - even the detailed and complicated reshaping of the foot as it takes each footstep - continues to astonish academics such as Professor McGrouther.

"Leonardo looked at these things as a scientist and an anatomist and an artist," he says. "Yet he managed to so completely understand and communicate in detail how they work."

Details of the Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist exhibition and its associated educational resources are available at www.royalcollection.org.ukexhibitionsleonardo-da-vinci-anatomist

What else?

Watch Dr Alice Roberts turn pupils' bodies inside out with her anatomical drawing skills on science.tv.

Test Da Vinci's theories of proportion with an experiment from amanda goddard.

Check out the TES Resources Da Vinci collection for more on the man, the Renaissance and his work.

In the forums

On the primary forum, teachers discuss cross-curricular ideas for teaching Da Vinci as a topic.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources033.

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Lucy Keane

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