The muscles of the left leg, seen from the front, and the bones and muscles of the right leg seen in right profile, and between them, a patella. Drawing by Michelangelo Buonarroti, ca. 1515-1520.


These drawings of the human leg are by the artist Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), whose studies of anatomy are recorded by his earliest biographers, Vasari (1550) and Condivi (1553). Michelangelo reportedly first dissected a cadaver in Florence around 1495, after he had been commissioned to sculpt a crucifix of wood for the church of Santo Spirito. The prior of the church gave him rooms in which he could, by dissection, learn how to render convincingly the muscles of the dying Christ. His last witnessed dissection occurred in Rome in 1548. Such studies were particularly apt for his typical subject matter, the muscular male nude in contorted action. The drawing on the left is a front or anterior view of the left thigh and leg, in which each of the major muscles is carefully drawn in outline and then hatched diagonally to emphasize their shapes. The swelling and tapering shape of the muscles is clearly delineated by the draftsman, as is the compact way in which the muscles interweave with each other. The drawing on the right is a side view of the same structure after the muscles have been cut away from the front of the limb. This work was presented to the Wellcome Library in 1980, in memory of Dr. Robert Heller and Mrs. Anne Heller.

Last updated: May 15, 2017