National Geographic : 2019 May
its entirety, a feat complicated by the complex layering of the structure. “He was so honest in his interpretation of nature and biology,” Coffey says. “Even today, you will have surgeons who will not be able to replicate what he did.” Leonardo’s visual acuity was driven by his abiding faith in nature’s design, whether a tree root or a hippopotamus. Human ingenuity, he wrote, “will never devise any inventions more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than Nature does; because in her inventions nothing is wanting, and nothing is superfluous.” Every artery, every tissue, every organ existed for a purpose—a revelation that changed the course of Francis Charles Wells’s career. Wells, senior cardiac surgeon at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, England, happened upon an exhibition of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Piccadilly neighborhood of London in 1977. The entry fee was one British pound; the payoff, immeasurable. “It just blew me away,” he says. Wells was stunned by the scope of the artist’s investigations. After dissecting the body of a 100-year-old man, Leonardo presented the first description of atherosclerosis in medical history. “ This coat on the vessels acts in man as it does in oranges,” he wrote, “in which as the peel thickens so the pulp diminishes the older they become.” His research on heart valves, Wells’s specialty, was just as prescient. To understand how they work, Leonardo designed a glass model of the aortic LEONARDO The Musician A gifted musician, Leonardo researched acoustics, sang, and improvised melodies on his lira da braccio (a bowed Renaissance stringed instrument). He also designed a range of musical instruments, includ ing drums, bells, and woodwinds. Here, he brainstormed ideas for a keyboardstring combination known as a viola organista. Sławomir Zubrzycki, who later built a viola organista, says Leo nardo “designed a per fect instrument.” VENERANDA BIBLIOTECA AMBROSIANA/BRIDGEMAN IMAGES TODAY At home in Kraków, Poland, Zubrzycki plays the viola organista he crafted, inspired by Leonardo. A pedal acti vates four circular bows covered in horsehair, which rub against the strings to create a melodious sound.