There are moments in everyone’s personal evolution when they are inclined to look back and question what might have been if they had spoken up or revealed an idea. Our reality is dependent on the knowledge we consume and disperse accordingly. Everything is shaped according to how people think, according to how they rationalise that which they can see around them and according to how they break down and communicate what they have observed.
Leonardo Da Vinci: Anatomist is an exhibition which forces us to question what might have been if a set of interpretations, theories and suppositions, all thought up by one man, had been uncovered at the moment of their conception. They weren’t. Instead, a set of drawings from the sixteenth century remained untapped and undiscovered for four hundred years.
The neatly curated show at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, is said to be the largest exhibition to date showing da Vinci’s studies of the human body. During da Vinci's career, he intended to publish his work on the subject in an anatomical treatise. Such a publication would have transformed the field of human anatomy dramatically. Instead, da Vinci’s discoveries remained unknown to public knowledge until the turn of the twentieth century.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition is the manner in which it provides a glimpse into da Vinci’s thought process. Viewers are privy to the artist’s personal notes. We are given an idea of the thoughts that filtered through da Vinci’s mind as he investigated the make-up of the human body. He poses questions that range from being intellectually prodigious (“What nerve is the cause of the movement of the eye?”) to playfully inquisitive (“What is sneezing?”). As a result, the viewer is curious and engaged with the artist, before realising that his questions were posed over four hundred years ago.
The winning aspect of this exhibition has to be its clarity of intention. The collection on display is annotated succinctly so that the viewer is allowed an in-depth understanding of the context behind the drawings. The manner of display is elegant, with drawings held delicately in between glass panes across the rooms. The set up is a traditional one, with its programme completely linear, but the material on display calls for such a format. It is so dense with information from the abyss of the artist’s intellect that there is no room for curatorial trickery. Viewers do get to enjoy a short introductory film, however, at the entrance of the exhibition. In addition, certain rooms in the show are populated with modern anatomical models (made by SOMSO Modelle, Germany) alongside da Vinci’s drawings, to demonstrate the relationship between the artist's and today’s understanding of the structure of the body.
It is important not to miss this exhibition if you are interested in the understanding of the evolution of ideas. Leonardo da Vinci’s musings on the biological construction of human beings could have changed a lot about the way ideas and knowledge evolved from the Renaissance until the present. It would seem that the secret of his discoveries was kept for a reason. But the secret is out now, and everyone should be in on it.