Torre, Marcantonio Della

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(b Verona, Italy, 1481; d. Riva, Italy, 1511)

medicine, anatomy.

Marcantonio della Torre received the doctorate in philosophy on 22 December 1497 and in medicine on 1 February 1501 at the University of Padua, where his father, Girolamo, was professor of medicine. Immediately appointed public instructor in medicine and later professor of the theory of medicine, Marcantonio della Torre continued to teach in Padua until 1510, when he transferred to the University of Pavia as professor of anatomy. During the following year his promising career was cut short by plague, contracted at Riva on Lake Garda, and his early death at the age of 30 was signaled by numerous humanist obituaries, including a poem by his celebrated compatriot Girolamo Fracastoro.

Little is known of della Torre’s medical work, for no manuscripts or published works appear to have survived. His name lives, instead, because of his supposed collaboration with Leonardo da Vinci on a treatise on anatomy. The story of this collaboration, repeated as fact by many later writers, stems primarily from a passage in the second edition of Vasari’s Lives (1568), added after Vasari had visited Leonardo’s heir, Francesco Melzi, and had seen the manuscripts in his possession. That the two men were friends or acquaintances thus rests on a reliable source1, but their supposed collaboration, or the influence of Marcantonio upon Leonardo, is open to question on several counts. First of all, their association must have been brief, limited to the time between Marcantonio’s move to Pavia in 1510 and his death in 1511. Leonardo was then nearly twice Marcantonio’s age, and his interest in anatomy had been aroused as early as 1489, when Marcantonio was seven years old. Leonardo’s anatomical dissections in Florence date from 1503, and he was writing about the anatomical text he hoped to publish long before he could have met the younger man. Indeed, about the time their encounter could have occurred, the greater part of Leonardo’s anatomical work had already been done. In 1508 he was recording and organizing the results of the dissections done in Florence, and in 1510 wrote that “this winter of the year 1510 I hope to have completed all this anatomy.”2 Moreover, no change in style that might be attributable to Marcantonio’s influence is observable in Leonardo’s work at this time3.

That the two men would have been interested in each other because of their common interest in anatomy is clear. Yet Marcantonio was a classicist who supported traditional Galenism against the newer anatomy of Mondino de’ Luzzi, while Leonardo was unfettered by scholasticism, and his anatomical researches sprang largely from his universal curiosity about the workings of nature. Thus the meeting and friendship of Leonardo da Vinci and Marcantonio della Torre appear highly probable, but the chronology of Leonardo’s anatomical work and the disparity in their outlook, training, and temperament argue against their having actively collaborated in the preparation of a treatise on anatomy.


1. Leonardo referred to a “Marcantonio” in the Codex Atlanticus, fol. 20v. 6, datable about 1508–1509; and on Windsor 19102 (C.III.8), datable about 1510–1512, he wrote “book on water to Messer Marcho Antonio.” This was a common name, however, and it is highly uncertain that della Torre was meant.

2. In the phrase “the winter of the year 1510,” Leonardo may have been following the Tuscan usage, meaning 1510–1511, for the Florentine year began March 25.

3. Kenneth Clark, The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. Second Edition Revised with the Assistance of Carlo Pedretti, I, appendix C, “The Anatomical Studies” (London, 1968-1969), xlvii.


References to della Torre by sixteenth-century writers include Girolamo Fracastoro, “In obitu M. Antonii Turrianni veronensis,” in Opera omnia (Venice, 1584), ff. 199–200: and Giorgio Vasari, Delle vite de’ piu eccellenti pittori scultori et architetti, 2nd ed., I, pt. 3 (Florence, 1568), 7.

Other sources treating Leonardo’s anatomic work and his possible collaboration with della Torre are Gerolamo Calvi, I manoscritti di Leonardo da Vinci (Bologna, 1925), Kenneth Clark, The Drawings of Leonardo da Windsor Castle 2nd ed., with Carlo Pedretti (London, 1968–1969); Leonardo da Vinci. An Account of his Development as an Artist (New York and Cambridge, 1939,) 161;G.B. De Toni, “Frammenti vinciani. I. Intorno a Marco Antonio dalla Torre anatomico veronese del XVI secolo ed all’ epoca del suo incontro con Leonardo da Vinci a Pavia,” in Atti del R. Istituto veneto di scienze, lettere ed arti, 54 (Venice, 1895–1896), 190–203; Kenneth D. Keele, “Leonardo da Vinci’s Influence on Renaissance Anatomy,” in Medical History, 8 (1964), 360–370; C. D. O’Malley and J. B. de C. M. Saunders, eds., Leonardo da Vinci on the Human Body. The Anatomical, Physiological, and Embryological Drawings. With Translations, Emendations, and a Biographical Introduction (New York, 1952), 24–25, 31–35; Edmondo Solmi, “Leonardo da Vinci, il Duomo, il Castello, e l’Università di Pavia,” in Scritti vinciani (Florence, 1924), 67.

Martha Teach Gnudi