Exactly how Richard Dalton, royal librarian for "Mad King" George III, made his startling discovery of the anatomical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci isn't known. What is known is that one day, around the time of the American Revolution, while removing the contents of a chest hidden away in Kensington Palace, Dalton uncovered hundreds of exquisite drawings by the Renaissance artist. Many drawings were of the human body -- of muscle and bone, lungs and hearts, legs and arms, sex organs and even fetuses in their maternal pod. Leonardo was known as much as an anatomist as a painter and an engineer, but until these drawings came to light, most of the tangible evidence was missing.
Worth many billions of dollars, Leonardo's drawings are considered the most prized holdings of the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. Yet their significance is priceless. Perhaps more than any other artifact, the anatomical drawings mark the end of the old world order and the beginning of the new. In the millennium between the fall of Rome and the rise of the Renaissance, the knowledge of nature existed in a largely fixed state. There was no place for curiosity in the lockdown mind-set of the Middle Ages. Then came the rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman culture and the call for reform; the rise of technology and science and printing as well as international trade; the exploration overland and overseas; the expansion of art; and, perhaps above all, the heretical but irresistible hunger for human progress. The Renaissance marked the passage of a world influenced by things unseen to a world influenced by things seen and understood through careful observation. Things like the human body.