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The exhibition

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) trained as an artist in Florence, but when he moved to Milan in the 1480s his interest in scientific matters blossomed. As his career progressed Leonardo devoted ever more time to his researches, in particular the study of anatomy, with the aim of publishing an illustrated treatise on the subject.

This would have been the single most important work on anatomy ever written. But Leonardo’s perfectionism, his difficulties in reconciling his observations with traditional beliefs, and bad luck prevented him from bringing his work to a conclusion. At his death his anatomical notes remained among his private papers.

Around 1580 Leonardo’s papers were bought by the sculptor Pompeo Leoni and bound into several albums. One of these contained all of the anatomical studies, together with hundreds of other, more ‘artistic’ drawings.

That album was acquired for the Royal Collection by 1690, and the Royal Library at Windsor Castle thus houses almost all of Leonardo’s surviving anatomical drawings. The drawings were removed from the album around 1900 – the empty binding is displayed below. This is the largest ever exhibition of Leonardo’s anatomical work.

This is the binding of the album made up for Pompeo Leoni in the late sixteenth century to house over 500 of Leonardo’s drawings, including all the anatomical studies now known. The album was brought to England, probably by the agents of Thomas Howa

The Leoni binding ©