[I]t is … anachronistic to apply the term artist with its modern connotation to Leonardo [da Vinci]. Artists in the sense that we understand and use the word, meaning practitioner of fine art, didn’t exist in Leonardo’s time. It would be more appropriate to use the word artisan in its meaning of craftsman or skilled hand worker.
In the historical literature ∃ a perfectly good term to describe Leonardo and his ilk, Renaissance artist-engineer, whereby one can actually drop the term Renaissance as this profession already existed in the High Middle Ages before the Renaissance is considered to have begun.
[T]he artist-engineers were … regarded as menials. An artist-engineer was expected to be a practical mathematician, surveyor, architect, cartographer, landscape gardener, designer and constructor of scientific and technical instruments, designer of war engines and supervisor of their construction, designers of masks, pageants, parades and other public entertainments oh and an artist.
The … polymath … that everybody raves about when discussing Leonardo … actually … perfectly normal … any Renaissance artist-engineer—the only difference being that Leonardo was better at nearly all of them than most of his rivals.
As far as his dissections and anatomical drawings are concerned these belong to the standard training of a Renaissance artist-engineer—the major difference here being that Leonardo appears to have carried these exercises further than his contemporaries and his anatomical sketches have survived whereas those of the other Renaissance artists have not.
Having denied Leonardo the title of artist I think it is only fair to point out that it was the generation to which Leonardo belonged who were the first to become recognised as artists rather than craftsmen and in fact it has been claimed that Raphael was the first artist in the modern sense of the word….
[an exhibition on da Vinci] emphasises the few occasions where Leonardo drew something new or unexpected whilst ignoring the vast number of scientifically normal or often incorrect drawings, thereby creating the impression that his anatomical drawings were much more revolutionary than they in reality were. Also whilst the drawings published by Vesalius in his De fabrica in 1543, i.e. a couple of decades after Leonardo’s death, are possibly not quite as good artistically, as those done by Leonardo, they are medically much more advanced.