Leonardo DaVinci, the World’s First Radiologist


Medical Imaging’s First Radiologist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), one of the most notable and talented figures of the Italian Renaissance, paved the way for modern medical imaging. Revealing that he had a sharp eye for observing the structure of the human body, he carried out detailed anatomical dissections to draw each organ, bone and muscle with meticulousness precision. Leonardo’s 800 anatomical drawings remained unpublished until the 1800’s.

The Mechanics of Man

The astounding exactness of Da Vinci’s drawings will be unveiled in a new exhibition that compares his work with modern medical imaging scans. The exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburg, UK, running from August 2nd through November 10th of this year centers on Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings during the winter of 1510-11.  Entitled, “Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man,” the exhibition displays a complete set of 18 sheets known as Anatomical Manuscript A, on which he crammed over 240 drawings of almost every bone in the human body and many of the major muscle groups.

Martin Clayton, curator of the exhibition said, “For the first time we will be displaying the artist’s works alongside stunning examples of medical imaging, showing how the concerns and methods of the world’s leading anatomists have changed little in 500 years, and how truly groundbreaking Leonardo’s work was.”

A Man Ahead of His Time

Illustrating the accuracy of Da Vinci’s drawings, in one example, a 3-D film of a dissected shoulder will be exhibited next to Leonardo’s drawings of the bones, muscles, nerves and tendons of the shoulder joint, viewed from every angle.

“This area of the body has a complex range of motion, and Leonardo’s attempt to capture it in two-dimensional drawings are shown to be centuries ahead of his time,” stated a spokesperson for the exhibition.

Modern Medical Imaging

Were Leonardo to attend the exhibition, he would be astounded at the advances in medical imaging technology. Today, CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, angiocardiography and a vast array of other techniques have had a major impact on the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

“Just about every field of medicine is using imaging more than they used to,” says William Eversman, MD, chairman of radiology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I’m not saying that the physical exam is a dying art. But doctors are coming to see just how valuable and accurate these tests can be.”

That would make Leonardo proud.

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