Download the Sublime Anatomy Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci: Available Online, or in a Great iPad App


I’ve always found anatom­i­cal draw­ing fas­ci­nat­ing. At its best, it occu­pies an aes­thet­ic space some­where between mys­ti­cal fine art and cut­ting-edge sci­en­tif­ic observation—a space carved out dur­ing the Ital­ian Renais­sance, when the bound­aries between artis­tic train­ing and sci­en­tif­ic inquiry were per­me­able and often nonex­is­tent.

Famous­ly, the peri­od intro­duced ren­der­ings of the human fig­ure so anatom­i­cal­ly accu­rate that “until about 1500–1510,” writes the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, the artists’ “inves­ti­ga­tions sur­passed much of the knowl­edge of anato­my that was taught at the uni­ver­si­ties.”

Recto: Studies of a cranium. Verso: Notes on the nerves and move

Artists like the great Michelan­ge­lo Buon­nar­roti and Leonar­do da Vinci—as well as less­er-known fig­ures like Anto­nio Pol­laiuo­lo and Bac­cio Bandinelli—undertook “detailed anatom­i­cal dis­sec­tions at var­i­ous points in their long careers,” pro­duc­ing hun­dreds of sketch­es and stud­ies along­side and in prepa­ra­tion for the mus­cu­lar paint­ings and sculp­ture for which they’re best known.

Recto: The muscles of the back and arm. Verso: Studies of the in

Most Renais­sance artists “became anatomists by neces­si­ty,” the Met points out, “as they attempt­ed to refine a more life­like, sculp­tur­al por­tray­al of the human fig­ure.” Leonardo’s stud­ies in anato­my, how­ev­er, held a sci­en­tif­ic inter­est all their own, akin to his inves­ti­ga­tions into the physics of flight, weapon and bat­tle­ment design, archi­tec­ture, and oth­er pur­suits.


Many of Leonardo’s anatom­i­cal draw­ings con­tain detailed notes on his obser­va­tions, as you can see in the study of a heav­i­ly-mus­cled tor­so and of a human cra­ni­um, fur­ther up. He wrote these notes using his pro­pri­etary right-to-left “mir­ror-writ­ing” tech­nique, which he reserved for his pri­vate note­books. “Only when he was writ­ing some­thing intend­ed for oth­er peo­ple,” Boston’s Muse­um of Sci­ence informs us, “did he write in the nor­mal direc­tion.”

Recto: Studies of the foetus in the womb. Verso: Notes on reprod

Now we can see sev­er­al dozen of Leonardo’s anatom­i­cal draw­ings of human and ani­mal fig­ures (such as the bear foot above) all in one place, thanks to Buck­ing­ham Palace’s Roy­al Col­lec­tion Trust—who have dig­i­tized their siz­able col­lec­tion. Leonar­do not only stud­ied anatom­i­cal struc­ture, but also per­formed dis­sec­tions in order to under­stand human phys­i­ol­o­gy; he approached the work­ings of the human body as though it were an organ­ic machine, as con­fi­dent in the ratio­nal order­ing of its parts as he was of its priv­i­leged place in the nat­ur­al world. (See just above Leonardo’s well-known draw­ings of a fetus in the womb, with copi­ous notes on human repro­duc­tion on both sides.)

Da Vinci iPad App

In addi­tion to the many intrigu­ing sketch­es, stud­ies, and detailed illus­tra­tions in the Roy­al Col­lec­tion Trust’s online archive, iPad own­ers can also search and view the col­lec­tion on their devices with the free Leonar­do da Vin­ci Anato­my app (screen­shot above). “For the first time,” writes the descrip­tion, “it is pos­si­ble for any­one with an iPad to own and explore this remark­able tes­ta­ment to Leonardo’s sci­en­tif­ic and artis­tic genius…. All 268 pages from Leonardo’s note­books are pre­sent­ed here at the high­est res­o­lu­tion, opti­mized for the pin-sharp reti­na dis­play of the iPad.” The app includes incred­i­bly help­ful fea­tures like Eng­lish trans­la­tions of the notes, as well as essays and inter­views with experts dis­cussing the sig­nif­i­cance of Leonardo’s dis­cov­er­ies.

The head of Judas in the Last Supper

Whether you own an iPad or not, you can ben­e­fit immense­ly from this col­lec­tion. The online ver­sion allows view­ers to down­load high-res­o­lu­tion images like the “Head of Judas” sketch in red chalk above (c. 1495). Once on the page, click the down­load arrow to the bot­tom right of the draw­ing and you’ll be tak­en to a larg­er ver­sion of the image. You can zoom in to exam­ine details, like the very fine lines and sub­tle shad­ing that mark each of Leonardo’s illus­tra­tions, from the most util­i­tar­i­an to the most artis­ti­cal­ly-ren­dered, as the spe­cial cre­ations of an extra­or­di­nary artist with a gift­ed sci­en­tif­ic mind.

Da Vinci Judas Detail

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Orig­i­nal Por­trait of the Mona Lisa Found Beneath the Paint Lay­ers of da Vinci’s Mas­ter­piece

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Hand­writ­ten Resume (1482)

Leonar­do Da Vinci’s To Do List (cir­ca 1490) Is Much Cool­er Than Yours

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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