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Leonardo Da Vinci’s Archival of the Dermatologic Condition

Abstract

The interconnection of scientific studies and art represented by Leonardo Da Vinci’s (1452–1519) portraiture accentuates his role in documenting and archiving dermatologic conditions. His anatomical dissections, sketches, and paintings, including portraits, were all a means to observe, portray, and understand the nuances of the human body. In two of his most discussed portraits, Ginevra de’ Benci (1474-1478) and Elisabetta del Giocondo, the Mona Lisa (1503-1506), Leonardo’s execution of the exterior anatomy is so precise that he may have illustrated manifestations of disease that allow contemporary researchers to theorize diagnoses of dermatologic as well as neurologic, endocrine and vascular conditions. These include hypochromic anemia, muscular disorders, xanthelasma, thyroid disease, lipoma, and frontal fibrosing alopecia. Leonardo’s extraordinary talent in recording his observations of shades and textures of skin and his ability to capture the nuances of subtle variations in the human body have produced a historical record that allows modern dermatology practitioners to make further observations not possible in his time. Here, dermatology and art intersect serving to document and explain the human condition, permanently archived in Leonardo’s masterpieces.

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Acknowledgements

This work is dedicated to Robert Williams, Professor of Art and Architecture History at University of California Santa Barbara. Professor Williams passed away in 2018. I first learned about Leonardo through his inspirational courses. He was a thought leader in Italian Renaissance art, a mentor, and a brilliant and kind human being.

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Correspondence to Edward Hadeler.

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Hadeler, E. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Archival of the Dermatologic Condition. J Med Humanit (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10912-021-09709-y

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Keywords

  • Leonardo Da Vinci
  • Leonardo
  • Art
  • Painting
  • Portraiture
  • Dermatology
  • Dermatologic
  • Dermatologic disease
  • Skin disease
  • Mona Lisa
  • Ginevra de Benci
  • Medicine
  • Anatomy
  • Skin
  • Dermatologic condition
  • Humanities