Da Vinci’s hands over to Napoleon to start the Arts Society’s new year

The Arts Society Salisbury had its first meeting of the year on 10 January at St Francis Church. Lecturer, Guy Rooker, discussed how Leonardo da Vinci made remarkable, accurate drawings of the six layers of anatomy of the hand.

Hands may be just one part of the body but Guy showed how very significant they can be in art. They are difficult to paint and one well-known artist, on being given a commission, was said to have stated the price would be doubled if he had to include hands.
Born in Vinci, a town to the west of Florence, da Vinci was the illegitimate son of a notary and a peasant woman. He was a self-taught artist, and had a separate notebook for each of his interests, e.g. science, anatomy.
Drawings would be annotated with his handwriting – he was left-handed and notes were mainly ‘mirror’. It may surprise many to learn, but he only made 15-20 paintings in his lifetime, whereas his sheets of drawings exceed 3,000.

Between 1469 and 1482, he was apprenticed to Andrea del Verrocchio, an Italian sculptor, painter and goldsmith, but he became increasingly interested in science and painting became a way to pay the bills.
He was fascinated by hands, believing that the work of hands at the command of eyes is infinite. In his painting of The Last Supper, the disciples’ hands are expressive and help tell the narrative.
Over the years, he came to believe that it was not possible to paint somebody unless one understood what was under the skin. At that time, artists might attend the hanging of criminals and then watch as the bodies were dissected.

Study of Hands c1474

Study of Hands c1474

While this may seem grim, it enabled da Vinci to make immaculate drawings of veins, tendons, muscles etc, and he wrote the first ever treatise of the anatomy in drawing.
His painting of the Saviour of the World was sold for £45 million in 1958 but was not authenticated until 2005. In 2018 it was sold for £340 million by an oligarch to pay, it is said, for his divorce and is thought to be hiding in a safety deposit box under Geneva Airport.
Are there any local examples of his work? Da Vinci’s original of Leda and Swan no longer survives but, around 1510, three very good copies were painted by Cesare di Sesto, one of which is at Wilton House.
On 14 February, the Society’s lecture will be given by Carole Petipher on the collections of Napoleon and Josephine at their private retreat: Chateau de Malmaison.
Napoleon and Josephine were one of the most followed couples in history and the lecture will give true insight into their characters by exploring these collections.

For those interested in joining the society there is an annual subscription of £45 for 10 lectures, pro rata through the year. You can also join a meeting as a guest for £7 to get an idea of what the society offers. for further information, or search for the society’s Facebook page. Call 01722 331216 or 504295 or email

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