Teaching anatomy through images: The power of anatomical drawings

Veronica Papa, Elena Varotto, Mauro Vaccarezza, Francesco M. Galassi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


How medical educators taught anatomy in the past changed throughout the centuries, ranging from dissection to wax modelling. More recently, imaging for teaching purposes has become increasingly crucial to anatomy education. The main focus of this contribution is to present the history of anatomical illustrations from the Middle Ages to our age. Anatomical illustrations are to a certain extent the ancestors of diagnostic images: Guido da Vigevano (c. 1280–1350) was the first anatomical illustrator who introduced the systematic use of anatomical drawings. Renaissance artists performed their dissections, inextricably binding anatomy and the arts in a crescendo that reached its peak in the work of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) and Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564). Leonardo presented the human body in more than 750 anatomical illustrations that included sketches of muscles, bones, brain, blood vessels, and viscera. He discovered the frontal and maxillary sinuses and described the structure and function of the cardiac valves in great detail. Although the anatomical accuracy of the drawings is open to debate, the methods and techniques Leonardo used are undeniably impressive and genuinely pioneering. Over Five hundred years after Leonardo's death, the purpose of this study is to offer a review of the medical literature on the history of anatomical illustrations and Leonardo's anatomical drawings offering a glimpse into the history of anatomical illustrations, the forerunners of today's imaging techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-153
Number of pages9
JournalAnthropologie (Czech Republic)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Moravian Museum, Anthropos Institute, Brno. All rights reserved.


  • Anatomical drawings
  • Anatomy education
  • History of medicine
  • Imaging
  • Leonardo da Vinci


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