Science in the Art of the Italian Renaissance II: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Representation of Animals in His Works
By Douglas D. Kane
The Ohio Journal of Science, Vol.102, No.5 (2002)
Abstract: Leonardo Da Vinci combined science and art in a number of his works and studies. This combination of science and art is very evident in the depiction of animals in his works. Leonardo studied both the anatomy and physiology of animals in order to render them with scientific precision. This included dissections of numerous animals and studies on their movements in nature. Leonardo Da Vinci, unified science and art, as is evident in the realistic and scientific depiction of animals in his works.
Introduction: Leonardo Da Vinci, the great artist and scientist of the Renaissance, showed a keen interest in nature in his works. His interest not only manifested itself in his drawings and paintings, but also in his scientific inquiries. This interest is evident in the many observations and writings Leonardo made on such varied subjects as botany, zoology, human anatomy, comparative anatomy, physiology, and geology. His interest in animals is evinced by the exact realism and life given to animals in his works of art. This exacting nature is also obvious in one of Leonardo’s most complete treatises. This treatise, On the Flight of Birds, is considered the first “systematic analysis of the principles of flight”. Leonardo’s interest in birds, among other animals, was likely formed during his youth. His fondness of animals was so great that he was rumored to buy caged birds and free them. Leonardo made many studies of animals, with cats, dogs, and horses as frequent subjects.
In order to compose many of his studies, Leonardo relied on close observation of the animal and at times dissections of their underlying features. Leonardo would use these dissections of animals’ body parts to compare them with human body parts. Leonardo compared the arms of men and monkeys and the legs of men and horses, and by doing so became a pioneer in comparative anatomy. The interest that Leonardo showed in animals, and in their energetic and realistic depiction, was unique in his time. Other Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo and Raphael, were more interested in the humanity and divinity represented in their works. Leonardo, while not neglecting humanity and divinity, put nature in a more elevated position than other artists of the day. The naturalistic and energetic depictions of animals in the art of Leonardo Da Vinci stemmed from his love for animals and his dedication to scientific inquiry.