World's Oldest Anatomical Model Skull May Be Leonardo Da Vinci's Work

This centuries old, one-third scale anatomical model of a human skull was sculpted by hand and contains remarkable detail. And research suggests that it maybe be a previously undiscovered work made by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci.

Photo copyright Dr. K. Becker, used with permission.

Stefaan Missinne published his research about this skull sculpture in a recent issue of the Vienna medical journal Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift. The skull was purchased by a German couple in 1987. Curious about the skull's origins, they contacted anatomical museum director Dr. Roger Saban, who connected the skull to one of Leonardo's anatomical sketch RL 19057. Saban found that the model contained the same proportions as the sketch, which also depicts a skull missing its lower jaw. Saban wrote:

A striking, unusual and rare fact for a sculptor to create this very precise, pro- portional 1/3 scale model, which breathes a scientific spirit wanting to conserve a three-dimensional piece, which is easier to transport in secrecy than a human skull originating from a burial site or an exploration.

Leonardo was the first artist of his era to show the sections of the skull, and other researchers familiar with Leonardo's anatomical work note that both the skull and the sketch share specific anatomical aberrations.

World's Oldest Anatomical Model Skull May Be Leonardo Da Vinci's Work


Missinne's research adds further evidence that the skull may have come from Leonardo's workshop or been sculpted by the man himself. Saban believed that the skull had been carved from marble, but a later X-Ray fluorescence spectroscopy analysis found that the skull was based on agate alabaster from the Cipollone mine near Volterra. However, when Missinne inspected the skull, he found that the material lacked certain features of alabaster. Revisiting the spectroscopy results, Missinne noted the presence of the element iridium in the skull. The presence of iridium indicates that river sand was likely part of the material, suggesting that the skull was not carved from alabaster but formed from mistioni, a material mixture that Leonardo alone created. Missinne attributes the skull to Leonardo circa 1508, when the artist was experimenting with such stone mixtures.

If you have access, you can reach Missinne's entire paper at Springer Medizin.

[via The History Blog]