William Hunter, the great surgeon—a competent judge—who had an opportunity in the time of George III. of seeing the originals in the King’s Library, has thus recorded his opinion: “I expected to see little more than such designs in Anatomy as might be useful to a painter in his own profession. But I saw, and indeed with astonishment, that Leonardo had been a general and deep student. When I consider what pains he has taken upon every part of the body, the superiority of his universal genius, his particular excellence in mechanics and hydraulics, and the attention with which such a man would examine and see objects which he has to draw, I am fully persuaded that Leonardo was the best Anatomist, at that time, in the world ... Leonardo was certainly the first man, we know of, who introduced the practice of making anatomical drawings” (Two introductory letters. London 1784, pages 37 and 39).
The illustrious German Naturalist Johan Friedrich Blumenback esteemed them no less highly; he was one of the privileged few who, after Hunter, had the chance of seeing these Manuscripts. He writes: Der Scharfblick dieses grossen Forschers und Darstellers der Natur hat schon auf Dinge geachtet, die noch Jahrhunderte nachher unbemerkt geblieben sind” (see Blumenbach’s medicinische Bibliothek, Vol. 3, St. 4, 1795. page 728).
These opinions were founded on the drawings alone. Up to the present day hardly anything has been made known of the text, and, for the reasons I have given, it is my intention to reproduce here no more than a selection of extracts which I have made from the originals at Windsor Castle and elsewhere. In the Bibliography of the Manuscripts, at the end of this volume a short review is given of the valuable contents of these Anatomical note books which are at present almost all in the possession of her Majesty the Queen of England. It is, I believe, possible to assign the date with approximate accuracy to almost all the fragments, and I am thus led to conclude that the greater part of Leonardo’s anatomical investigations were carried out after the death of della Torre.
Merely in reading the introductory notes to his various books on Anatomy which are here printed it is impossible to resist the impression that the Master’s anatomical studies bear to a very great extent the stamp of originality and independent thought.
A general introduction
I wish to work miracles;—it may be that I shall possess less than other men of more peaceful lives, or than those who want to grow rich in a day. I may live for a long time in great poverty, as always happens, and to all eternity will happen, to alchemists, the would-be creators of gold and silver, and to engineers who would have dead water stir itself into life and perpetual motion, and to those supreme fools, the necromancer and the enchanter.