Biomedical science meets art

Well I don’t know what inspired me more in Vegas, the museum devoted to Leonardo Da Vinci or the Chuck Jones exhibition. I think both inspired me equally because they combined my love of the human body with my love of art and animation. Biomedical science after all is a visual subject with the use of microscopy to study cells and tissues, so the subject often appeals to the artist in us.

Leonardo was a genius there is no doubt, as an artist, scientist and inventor. His drawings of human anatomy as with many artists of that time originated from the dissection of exhumed bodies. In 15th century Italy in fact human dissection at medical schools such as Padua were public events, and this is where the word “carnival” reportedly originated with “carne” meaning meat. These public events included musicians and entertainers as well as eminent surgeons of the day. This was biomedical science in its merest infancy with the preliminary beginnings of experimentation at this time such as those conducted by William Harvey which led to his discovery of the circulatory system.

As well as advancing the understanding of human anatomy through his drawings, Leonardo sketched out many inventions and innovations, particularly around the quest for flight. However it was also suggested that many of these ideas may not have been his own, and were talked about at that time which he then may just have sketched for himself.

Arts and science banner

Most fascinating was a recent study using a range of photographic techniques to study closely the Mona Lisa. It was interesting to note that she has no eyebrows or eyelashes and schools of thought now suggest that the delicate paint work simply had not lasted over time, rather than Leonardo causing interest and controversy by not giving her these features. If we get all scientific for a moment, arts meets science again in one of the techniques called spectroscopy which is a laboratory technique in biomedical science and also a version of it – Raman spectroscopy – is a way of fingerprinting paint pigments and is used to authenticate oil paintings and determine which pigments and paints were used.

Well onto another fine artist and the work of Charles Jones – or beloved Chuck Jones who drew many of our favourite cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Pepe le Pew and Road Runner, and so many more. Being an amateur animator myself I can appreciate the incredible amount of work that went into creating some 30 frames per second; all cells were hand drawn and painted by teams of animators and artists and then painstakingly filmed. Of course we can automate the process today using Adobe Flash, but as with anything digital you loose the depth and richness of colour that a computer simply cannot represent.

Being from near Nottingham I have to particularly like his rendition of Robin Hood and his merry men! Of course his characters were brought to life by the vocal skills of Mel Blank who worked for the studios for over 60 years. The created cartoons were genius although it is sad that gone is the day where the television schedules would have a five minute interlude for a Looney Tunes Cartoon from Warner Brothers.

Robin Hood and his Merry Men


I think the quote of the day goes to Leonardo though,

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do”.

Absolutely – just DO IT! I did, and I ended up in Las Vegas!

Viv Rolfe