The Art and Heart of Leonardo - artistic anatomy then and now

Running from 5 May-16 June 2022, Clare Hall Art Committee is proud to present The Art and Heart of Leonardo, an exhibition chiefly of Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings, as seen through contemporary eyes. This is the outcome of Francis Wells’ long-standing interest in Leonardo, which first took hold when, as a young man, he studied anatomy for surgery. The sight of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings excited him greatly.

The exhibition has been co-curated by Professor Roberta Ballestriero (Accademia di Belle Arti, Venice) and Francis Wells (an Honorary Fellow of Clare Hall).

About the exhibition

Dissecting the hearts of oxen and working with intuition, Leonardo described, with astonishing precision, the anatomy and workings of the heart long before William Harvey posited the circulation of the blood. Leonardo was a profound lateral thinker and applied his ideas in functional anatomy across species. This allows us to draw a parallelism between his analysis of birds' wings and photographs of birds in flight taken by Owen Burke, who has kindly lent these to the exhibition.

As an artist fascinated by both art and science, Leonardo was able to see things that many could not. This has inspired the investigative and imaginative contemporary drawings made by students of the Accademia di Belle Arti, Venice, while studying an innovative course on ‘artistic anatomy’, conceived by Professor Mauro Zocchetta. We are grateful to the Accademia di Belle Arti for the loan of some of these drawings. It is hoped that this broader approach to Leonardo and his legacy will result in an exhibition that invites engagement at many levels of academic interest.

We are especially grateful to co-curator Francis Wells, a cardiac surgeon at the Royal Papworth Hospital, who is also the author of a scholarly book titled The Heart of Leonardo, as well as an Honorary Fellow of Clare Hall. His book demonstrates the accuracy of Leonardo’s observation and physiological reasoning. Leonardo himself never published his anatomical knowledge, as he intended to do, and it can therefore be regarded as another of his great unfinished projects. Only in the late twentieth century did his achievements in describing the detailed function of the heart begin to be appreciated; and only latterly has his work received wide recognition.

Previous versions of this exhibition have been shown abroad. It is very appropriate that Clare Hall, a forward-looking college, should be the first place to show it in England. We are extremely grateful to Francis Wells for loaning us facsimiles in his possession, for the time and attention he has given to their presentation, and, above all, for all the insights he offers into Leonardo’s work. Such generosity will entice and reward many visitors to this exhibition.

A beautifully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition. Donations to the Clare Hall Art Committee are welcome for this.


Francis Wells, co-curator of the exhibition, is willing to offer tours. He can exlain and explore the extraordinary observational skills and insights Leonardo achieved when he dissected and drew the heart. 

Please email Fiona Blake to arrange your place on a tour, specifying your availability on the following dates:

  • Friday 13 May
  • Thursday 19 May (late afternoon)
  • Monday 23 May (mid-late afternoon or evening)
  • Thursday 26 May (late afternoon/evening)
  • Tuesday 31 May (midday onwards)
  • Tuesday 7 June (mid-afternoon to early evening)
  • Tuesday 14 June 

Tours are free but donations to the Clare Hall Art Committee are most welcome.

Ahead of your visit

  • Open 9am-5pm daily, open to the general public
  • Content warning: graphic imagery of internal organs
  • Please direct any queries about this exhibition to Fiona Blake, Secretary of the Art Committee, via
  • Accessibility details: full step-free access, accessible toilet, lift.
  • Find directions on how to get to Clare Hall and contact details here.

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