Leonardo da Vinci is a man of the 15th century, of many talents, curious about a very varied panel of disciplines: art, biology, physics, engineering, arts of war, etc. This article will focus only on the anatomist Leonardo da Vinci, in order to be inspired by his use of drawing to understand the structure and functioning of the human body, and to extract from his observations the scientific hypotheses allowing to ‘explain the unknown.
Leonardo was closely interested in the study of organs and skeletons, with a physicist’s approach, assimilating blood to water flow and drawing inspiration from the joints of the elbows or shoulders to create completely innovative machines. He uses drawing extensively to understand the functioning of organs and skeletons. Below is a page of drawings and notes on a neck study, where he describes the organs for breathing, swallowing, and sound production. What is particularly interesting to remember in the use that Leonardo made of drawing, is his use at the end of decomposed drawings (each organ is described individually) and of drawings bringing together a set of organs, making it possible to appreciate the overall context of their organization in relation to each other.
His work of observing organs is not limited to observation, but also goes through stages of complex experiments. For example, Leonardo uses a system of injecting hot wax, therefore liquid, into the brains of cattle, allowing him to bring out the cerebral ventricles by freezing the structure. His studies of the skull allowed him to advance his understanding of the optic nerves, going so far as to distinguish between motor nerves (making the eyes move) and sensor nerves (allowing the eyes to see).
Leonardo was also interested in myology, that is to say the study of muscles and the muscular system. His study boards on muscles are not only of scientific interest, but also of artistic interest, because let’s not forget that Leonardo is also an artist! Understanding the hidden structure of human bodies allows him to make his drawings extremely realistic. He pays particular attention to the representation of the tension and movements of the arm as a mechanical lever of the body, as for example in his work The Battle of Anghiari.
Leonardo da Vinci therefore uses the drawing and the diagram to meet several needs:
– Synthesize the knowledge that he accumulates while learning anatomy, he draws the different organs and bones in which he is interested and implements on his drawings the new information that he extracts, either by adding elements to the drawing or by accompanying it with explanatory notes. Sufficiently complete and well-taken notes allow him to reuse them for other purposes, such as for example in the creation of his works of art.
– Conceptualize new ideas the observation of a corpse being very limiting in understanding the functioning of a living organism, Leonardo had no other choice than to make hypotheses. And one way to conceptualize them was through drawing, because from the structure of such an organ, he could hypothesize on its functioning. For example, his study of the vocal cords led him to hypothesize that sounds are produced by vortices of air as air passes through the neck at the time of exhalation. All that remains is to demonstrate it!
– Communicate knowledge: because scientists are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants, we use the knowledge accumulated before us to advance our own research. So one of the essential missions of scientists is to be able to communicate their findings to as many people as possible, which necessarily involves qualities of inescapable didacticism. And the drawing or the diagram are part of the essential tools when it comes to having to explain elements to others.
So what are you waiting for to integrate drawing into your daily life!
Musée de Léonard de Vinci, Florence.