Science as Art, Art as Science <

The painter who depicts something only through practice and judgment of the eye without reason is like a mirror that imitates all things

placed in front of it without recognizing them
Leonardo da Vinci
Codex Atlanticus, fol. 207r. Translation: Elizabeth Hughes




The many and varied technical tasks Leonardo had to master in the service of the Sforzas were closely linked to scientific problems and challenges. But also the practice of the visual arts, especially painting, increasingly required theoretical knowledge and diverse expertise, particularly in the cultivated context of the court. This ranged from questions of optics and mathematical perspective construction to mechanical problems and medical knowledge. Leonardo now tried to learn systematically from the existing fundamental works by ancient authors related to all these disciplines, as well as from medieval sources and a growing number of more recent treatises. He expanded his library with specialist scientific literature and made concentrated and ambitious efforts to learn Latin and deepen his mathematical knowledge. This eventually enabled him to formulate new scientific insights of his own. He had now become an “author” of scientific works in his own right. Other artist-engineers, from Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) and Piero della Francesca (ca. 1420–1492) to Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), also sought to place painting, which at the time was still considered a purely practical craft, on a scientific footing. Leonardo went one step further and elevated painting itself to a science.


Anatomy and Surgery <

Surgeon’s instruments

Surgical operations in the Middle Ages and the early modern period were not performed by academically trained physicians but instead, especially in the wider population, by surgeons who were also called shearers. Sometimes shavers, the predecessors of the later barbers, performed operations as well. They used simple instruments like knives, scissors, and bone saws for amputations. Illustrations of these instruments appear with various enema syringes and a hot water bottle in the surgeon’s manual by the surgeon Hieronymus Brunschwig (ca. 1450–1512). His book is largely based on the Chirurgia magna by Guy de Chauliac (ca. 1298–1368), a copy of which was in Leonardo’s library (4 ). Even simple operations were often fatal due to infected wounds caused by lack of hygiene. Leonardo used similar instruments to dissect corpses for his anatomical studies.



    Keil, Gundolf. 2005. „Brunschwig, Hieronymus. In Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte, herausgegeben von Werner E. Gerabek, Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil, und Wolfgang Wegner. Berlin u.a.: De Gruyter.