By REBECCA ENGLISH
He is already recognised as one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance period. Now a stunning new exhibition at Buckingham Palace demonstrates how Leonardo da Vinci was also one of the most ground-breaking anatomists of all time.
Indeed his findings dating from the late 1490s and early 1500s were so revolutionary that some could not be conclusively proved until the development of MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanners in the 1980s, which use radio waves to take detailed pictures of the body.
Da Vinci’s fascination with the human body began through his desire to be ‘true to nature’ in his paintings and led him to embark on what can only be described as a campaign of dissection in hospitals and medical schools throughout Florence.
Many of the corpses he worked on were the bodies of executed criminals or those who had no relatives to claim them for burial. He had hoped to publish his findings in a treatise on anatomy and had he done so, his discoveries would have transformed European knowledge on the subject.
But on his death in 1519, his notes and drawings remained hidden away amongst his mass of private papers and effectively lost to the world for 400 years. Arguably his greatest investigations focus on the workings of the heart – and the artist came tantalisingly close to discovering the science behind the circulation of blood, a century before it was officially achieved.
According to Royal Collection curator Martin Clayton, da Vinci became fascinated with a swelling he discovered at the root of the aorta, just beneath the aortic valve.In order to investigate this he injected melted wax into the heart of an ox in order to make a cast from inside the cavity. He then made a glass model from the cast which he pumped with water containing a suspension of grass seeds so that he could witness the ‘turbulence’ that took place.