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The nature, the reason and the science of man: a new edition of Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical studies


The project aims publish a complete catalogue of Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical studies and another book to a wider public, and to establish a centre for studies on Renaissance philosophy at the Escola de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas da Unifesp. It is proposed here an original research to investigate in depth the notions of art and science and the organizations of knowledge that were present in the Renaissance, comparing him with other anatomists and painters particularly with respect to their terms of reference and the place of their arts and sciences.The Renaissance was a period dominated by the Aristotelian tradition. Benedetto Varchi, in the preface of second of his Two lessons on painting and sculpture, delivered in 1546, says that science is "nothing more than the knowledge of the universal things, necessary and consequently eternal, obtained by demonstration", and art is "the disposition to make involving a true course of reasoning", following the definitions of Nicomachean Ethics. Franciscus Toletus, in his Commentary with questions in eight books on Aristotle's Physics published in 1574, divides the philosophy into speculative, practical and productive, following the beginning of the sixth book of Metaphysics. However, instead of the higher value given to the vita contemplativa in the Antiquity, still present in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance men gave new values to the vita activa. Some craftsmen began to apply theoretical sciences in their specific arts, as in the case of Filippo Brunelleschi, who applied the geometry in the art of painting, creating the perspective for the use of the painters and sculptors. Few years later the humanist Leon Battista Alberti organized it in the treatise On painting. At the beginning of his treatise he states that his aim is to write on the "objects to be seen", but not on the "things separated from all matter", accepting the traditional distinction between art and science. In his treatise, Alberti applies other sciences (optics and anatomy) and adapts some arts (rhetoric and poetics) to the art of painting. Different from the unlettered craftsmen, the painter imagined by Alberti was a sort of lettered man who could paint from the knowledge of principles and was able to speak about them. Other craftsmen-writers, like Lorenzo Ghiberti, Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Piero della Francesca, aimed to elevate the value of their knowledge and their own social status, but none of them tried to identify arts and sciences. The definitions of the ancient texts were well established and clear, and the arts were still secondary with respect to the sciences.Leonardo da Vinci tried to surpass the categories and the organizations of knowledge of his period and tried to effectively unite art and science. After his education in Verrocchio's atelier, in Milan Leonardo began to improve his culture, studying matters like optics, physics and anatomy. From that time onward, as an anatomist Leonardo took a very distinctive path, diverging progressively from the craftsmen and the physicians. Without the prejudices of the university professors, he did himself dissections, and for him the craftsman-anatomist had to know "the good draughtsmanship", "the knowledge of perspective", "the methods of geometrical demonstration and the method of calculation of the forces and power of the muscles". Using his art of drawing, at this time systematized by the perspective, and his experience of dissection, he could recreate the human figure from his knowledge of the causes. However, the culture of that period did not permit the synthesis Leonardo da Vinci was proposing, and he did not have a disciple as an anatomist. He tried to do a similar operation with the art of painting, but the results were similar. (AU)

Articles published in Pesquisa FAPESP Magazine about the research grant:
Entre la cátedra y el taller