- Superb attention to detail
- Excellent production values
- Packed with interesting, unique content
- A bit intimidating at first
- Review Price: £9.99
- 268 scanned drawings
- Illustrated ebook on da Vinci
- Video interviews
- Comparative 3D medical models
Leonardo da Vinci was a genius. He invented things, painted like a demon – an exceedingly arty one – and took a keen interest in anatomy. Largely the anatomy of well-toned young men, if his drawings are anything to go by, but his 1500s work was arguably unmatched at the time. The Royal Collection has just opened an exhibition of these anatomical drawings, and to support it Touch Press has released a brilliant, ultra-high quality app – Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy.
The app, which is only available for iPads at present, gives you access to high-quality scans of every drawing seen in the exhibition plus a load more. In total there are 268, and you can zoom into each using the pinch gesture, to an extent you’d have to press you eyeball against the display glass to achieve in real life.
Let’s take a step back for a minute, though. The Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy app is split into two sections. Up first is The Story. This is a 20,000-odd word essay written by the curator of the exhibition Martin Clayton. It gives you much more context to da Vinci, the state of medicine at the time and the drawings themselves, than you get at the exhibition.
If reading a sorta-academic essay seems a little too much like hard work, you can skip through, skimming sections easily enough. It’s broken down into chapters and features many illustrations, as well as video interviews that sit at the end of each chapter. These are artfully embedded into the page and act as a treat for finishing the chapter.
Make no mistake – this is an app you need to invest some concentration and brain power on, with the feel of a museum or art gallery. However, it is certainly not dry in its presentation.
The other half of the Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy app is The Drawings. It’s where the 250-plus scans are kept, and although clearly a lot of work went into the “The Story”, it’s undoubtedly the meat of the app.
Sifting through hundreds of ancient drawings – almost all are more than five hundred years old – may sound more like work than fun, but Touch Press has made sure it’s flick-friendly, accessible and – believe it or not – kinda fun. For a start, the iPad is the perfect platform for a near-forensic look at these anatomical studies. Zooming in and out feels fluid and natural – and you don’t need to treat anything with reverential lightness here.
The catalogue-ing of the drawings is also very important. You can browse through them by era, by type, by the part of the body they depict, or just look at the drawings that feature in the exhibition in London. Some of the most interesting are the interactive drawings. These place da Vinci’s drawings alongside accurate 3D models of the human body, to let you see how close to the truth the old master was.
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He was reasonably accurate, aside from some rather odd assumptions about the inner-workings of women – perhaps not too surprising for someone a little obsessed with the male form.
What makes Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy really special, though, is the additional work that’s been put it, beyond just scanning these highly valuable drawings. The copious scribbles that accompany most of them have all been translated into English from the original medieval Italian, and you can see the words on the drawings themselves or in a box-out.
Plus there’s even a mirror-image tool to let you see da Vinci’s back-to-front writing the right way around – the crazy genius wrote right-to-left. For people like us, it’s completely useless but is a symptom of the absurd level of detail Touch Press is willing to go into. And on the App Store, it’s a unicorn-esque rarity.
At £10, the Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy iPad app is a bit of a tough sell. Like a museum or art gallery, it’s more “good for your brain and soul” than all-out good fun. However, if you have a passing interest in medical history, Da Vinci or the art of drawing, this is well worth checking out. It’s the perfect companion to the Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy exhibition in London, and packs-in much more information too.