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How Accurate Were Leonardo Da Vinci's Anatomy Drawings? 108

antdude writes "BBC News answers how accurate were Leonardo da Vinci's anatomy drawings — 'During his lifetime, Leonardo made thousands of pages of notes and drawings on the human body. He wanted to understand how the body was composed and how it worked. But at his death in 1519, his great treatise on the body was incomplete and his scientific papers were unpublished. Based on what survives, clinical anatomists believe that Leonardo's anatomical work was hundreds of years ahead of its time, and in some respects it can still help us understand the body today. So how do these drawings, sketched more than 500 years ago, compare to what digital imaging technology can tell us today?'"
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How Accurate Were Leonardo Da Vinci's Anatomy Drawings?

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  • .. especially considering he's an anthropomorphised turtle.

    • .. especially considering he's an anthropomorphised turtle.

      Why would anyone mark this offtopic?

      I remember watching a British mystery where a little kid told the visiting art expert that he liked Leonardo so much better than Michelangelo or Donatello.
      The guy thought that the kid was a genius.

    • This really needs +5 funny. Too bad I don't have mod points today.
    • Everyone thinks of Donatello as the science nerd of the group, but Leonardo had his own hobbies. He kept them quiet, though, which is why we're only just discovering them. Maybe he didn't want to many questions about why he was so interested in the inner workings of the human body...

  • Has anyone seen his uncensored drawings? The ones that show human pollination. They are the height of Renaissance kink! I now understand "bees", but where do the birds come in to play?
    • Re:Risque? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 06, 2012 @03:43PM (#39909919)

      Kinky is using a feather, perverted is using the whole bird. Playing it safe is using a rubber chicken.

  • by wickerprints ( 1094741 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @03:40PM (#39909899)

    The biggest insight I gleaned from the article was when the author described da Vinci's approach to anatomy as being that of an engineer's and an architect, and how that perspective allowed him to interpret the body structures he saw. Remember high school biology dissection labs? Or if you studied anatomy in college, remember the profound disconnect between seeing a perfectly laid-out diagram of an organism, versus actually going in and dissecting one in reality? You think that when you cut a creature open, that you'll see some version of those drawings just sitting there in front of you, labeled and color-coded and all structures clearly defined. Instead, I acutely remember my surprise when cutting open a rat, a frog, and an earthworm, that all I really saw at first was a jumbled pink/brown mess of innards. Things moved around, didn't have the shape I thought they would, and if someone hadn't already drawn the diagrams I would've been at a complete loss as to how to describe what I saw, let alone try to make an anatomically faithful reproduction of it.

    That should give you a better understanding of just how amazing da Vinci's observational skills were.

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @04:04PM (#39910053) Homepage

      Much of DaVinci's artwork (most of it) is of people. One of his incredible talents was the ability to draw people in a lifelike pose. That requires a keen eye, good eye / hand coordination and an understanding of anatomical function. I'm not so sure that it was his 'engineer's eye' more than his 'artist's eye'. Of course, we're making an artificial distinction here - art and engineering don't have to be separate and many humans appreciate the intersection of the two concepts.

      But I see those drawings as an attempt by DaVinci to understand how the human body works so he can express his vision of human form / function in his art.

      He still was a friggin genius, no matter what he was thinking or doing or smoking....

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Leonardo was able to intuit how blood flowed into and out of heart values, including the fluid rotation and corresponding fluid dynamics so many years ago. In fact, it took up until a year or two ago to duplicate the findings Leonardo asserts so long ago. To say he was ahead of his time is an extreme understatement.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @05:17PM (#39910363)
      Do engineering students still take drafting courses? Even if you never need to make an engineering drawing, I believe that learning how to make them gives one a better ability to observe the structure and relationship of things. Of course da VInci was better at drawing than most of us.
      • Engineers didn't take drafting 20 years ago when I was in engineering school.
        • by c_sd_m ( 995261 )
          I took drafting in engineering ~10 years ago (in Canada). It was half hand sketching and half CAD.
          • I took drawing (by hand) and modelling (by CAD). By hand was in first year, with a bit of 2D CAD thrown in for good measure. 3D CAD with the respective drawings for manufacture was 2nd to 4th. This was in South Africa (University of Cape Town) 2008 - 2011.

            If a mechanical / mechatronics student doesn't know how to produce drawing of things that will be made, what is the point of learning how to design things? Are you going to find someone else to turn it into something to be manufactured? One of the most imp

      • by necro81 ( 917438 )
        It depends on what you mean by "drafting." If you are referring to the process of documenting a design on a 2-D drawing, then yes, most engineering students learn some amount of drafting. If you are asking whether they sit at a drafting table and create drawings on vellum with pencil, ink, ruler, etc., then the answer is more or less "no." That's not to say that they can't or don't - people will often begin with a quick hand sketch to organize and communicate their thoughts. But formal hand drafting tec
    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @05:29PM (#39910427) Journal

      If all da Vinci had done was make accurate anatomical drawings, he'd be another Renaissance genius. What makes da Vinci possibly the most gifted human being in the history of our species is that while he was dissecting bodies to learn how they functioned, he was also designing hydraulic systems, helicopters, submarines, oh, and being one of the greatest painters in all of history. What has, since his time down to ours made him the most breathtaking of intellects was that his genius truly knew no bounds. Every topic fascinated him, and if he turned his mind to understanding it, he seemed almost effortlessly to do so.

      • So he was an engineer with a few hobbies... some of which were expressive (the painting), some of which were an extension of engineering (the anatomy).

        • by Genda ( 560240 )

          I must bow to your powers of understatement!!!

        • by Anonymous Coward
          No, he was a scientist with everything as his hobby. This here is how engineers get to be the most fundy of nerds, you are so damn full of yourselves merely because you bothered to slug trough all the memorization. Guess what, doctors did too, but they still aren't quite as self-inflated (yes, you are THAT bad).
    • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Sunday May 06, 2012 @05:39PM (#39910473)

      I acutely remember my surprise when cutting open a rat, a frog, and an earthworm, that all I really saw at first was a jumbled pink/brown mess of innards

      Since you mentioned architecture briefly, this is surprisingly true there as well, especially if it's an older building and you don't have good documentation of the original plans []. You cut into things and there's this jumble of wires in the wall going who knows where, some wood or concrete that may or may not be load bearing, a foundation built on top of another foundation that wasn't mentioned in any plans, some pipes that might've been from the previous era's sewer system, etc. Often true even if you do have the plans, especially when it comes to things like what the wiring looks like in the diagrams versus in the wall. And it's even worse in the subterranean space of cities outside of buildings; one of many reasons building a subway line is so expensive.

    • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @10:28PM (#39912107) Homepage Journal

      That's right, one of the main lessons of biology is that real life doesn't look like the textbooks!

      When I was learning to draw, I copied Da Vinci's drawings.

      When I studied anatomy, I went back to Da Vinci's anatomical drawings. Comparing them to the modern anatomy books, and the human anatomy I've seen in museums, some of Da Vinci's work was done with uncanny accuracy, but some of his other drawings were just plain wrong. You can see where he was copying from real life, and where he was interpolating and guessing. When he drew from life, he was really good.

      I don't fault him for that. We built on his work. Of course we went beyond him. We had 500 years to do it.

      But every time I see one of those awesome 3D CT and MRI reconstructions that surgeons use before they operate, I wonder what Da Vinci would have thought if he could see them.

    • Reminds me of the first time I field dressed a deer. I had seen diagrams showing how to do it as well as a number of descriptions but actually doing it was much different. I can appreciate what biologists do when it comes to figuring out what the different parts do, apart from the digestive tract I couldn't tell what was what as most things just looked to be roundish blobs with some fat on them.
  • by dynamator ( 964799 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @04:22PM (#39910133)
    Yet another demonstration of how an illustration by a skilled artist can explain complex structures, mechanisms, and phenomena that cannot be readily photographed. Even computer rendering rely on modelers, animators,and lighters who can take messy, chaotic 3D scans and mocap data and clean up it , analyze and stylize it into a form that shows what's really vital. DaVinci's high accuracy renderings also serve as a prime example to refute David Hockney's outlandish claim that renaissance artists could not have achieve their results without the aid of optical projection tools.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    All this AND he came up with a whole code that 500 years later would make a bestselling book and movie.

    AND he helped Ezio Auditore fight off the Templars....

    The guy was truly prodigious.

  • by prolene ( 1016716 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @04:55PM (#39910275) Homepage
    How can i answer? Although i am a Doctor and from what i see in the BBC video and the article, the drawings are agreeably hundred of years ahead of his time. In my humble opinion the work done by Leonardo Da Vinci seeded the understanding of Antomy.
    • Hundreds or thirty, Vesalius published a rather complete anatomy some time later.
    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      In my humble opinion the work done by Leonardo Da Vinci seeded the understanding of Antomy.

      I seem to remember that, back in Roman times, there was a doctor that would actually operate and do autopsies on recently killed gladiators and he had a pretty good understanding of anatomy and what we would consider modern medicine. Sadly I cannot remember his name, and of course, it being Roman, his research could easily have been lost or forgotten.

    • by Genda ( 560240 )

      If that was all he did it would be mind numbing. He also seeded dozens of sciences that wouldn't be sciences for 400 years. Fluid dynamics, aerodynamics and aeronautics, architecture and civil engineering, optics, light study, cognition and behavior, mechanics, physics, chemistry, geology, biology, and fascinating advances in mathematics. He was almost a one man scientific explosion, jump starting the renaissance. There is simply no way to overstate his brilliance.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @05:04PM (#39910325) Journal
    Seems like a lad with a gift like this would've amounted to something.
  • Andreas Vesalius (Score:5, Informative)

    by EdwinFreed ( 1084059 ) on Sunday May 06, 2012 @06:30PM (#39910739)
    Irrespective of their quality, Da Vinci's drawings did little at the time to challenge the use of Galen's work (which was based on dissection of animals and therefore quite inaccurate). That particular bit of heavy lifting was done by Andreas Vesalius, who not only debunked Galen, but was also the first to publish a comprehensive work on anatomy (De Humani Corporis Fabrica). His work has repeatedly been found to be highly accurate, especially considering the conditions under which it was produced. An amusing side note is that it was so well regarded it was extensively pirated.

    Vesalius made a lot of enemies by going against what amounted to the medical establishment of the time. After repeated challenges his critics actually resorted to the howler that the human body must have changed (evolved? ;) since Galen studied it.

    Vesalius has always been a personal hero of mine - a guy who developed an interest in an an important area (anatomy), and pursued it, at great personal cost, with as much thoroughness and rigor as could be had at the time.
  • The drawings of da Vinci influenced our understanding of how the body is put together.

    • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Monday May 07, 2012 @01:01AM (#39912757)
      Yep, in fact we're still learning from the man.

      Francis Wells, who is a heart surgeon at Papworth Hospital, has been fascinated by Leonardo’s anatomical drawings for the past 20 years and changed his surgical practice in the light of Leonardo’s observations on the structure of the mitral valve,” he says.

      "What Leonardo was observing was how the elasticity of the heart and valves was important. It was common for surgeons to put rigid stents in the mitral valve when reconstructing it and Francis Wells has since been using a more subtle approach and trying to preserve some of that elastic nature and has had less failure in his stents as a consequence."
      link []
  • So what they're saying, is that using modern technology, they can confirm that these drawings, long known for their accuracy and detail, are, in fact, accurate and detailed. Amazing.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle