Cajal won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1906 for his significant contribution to the field of neuroscience. He was an astute observer of neuroanatomy, and equally proficient at accurately drawing what he saw, so accurately that even today his drawing are used to teach neuroanatomy in medical schools. One hundred years later, modern microscopy continues to confirm the dexterity and accuracy with which Cajal depicted the various components of the nervous system of different species.
Below are some drawings by Cajal juxtaposed with contemporary images of the same nervous system structure taken by modern microscopic techniques.
Top: “Drawing of Purkinje cells (A) and granule cells (B) from pigeon cerebellum by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1899. Instituto Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Madrid, Spain (wikipedia) Bottom: Image by Yinghua Ma and Timothy Vartanian, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. This image captures Purkinje cells, one of the main types of nerve cell found in the brain. These cells have elaborate branching structures called dendrites that receive signals from other nerve cells.” Source: http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Education/life-magnified/Pages/10_purkinje-cells_ma.aspx
Top: Cajal-Retzius cells as drawn by Cajal. Bottom: As seen in microscopy (Source: Nature Reviews, Neuroscience)
Nothing short of a miniaturist, Cajal drew neuronal structures from all species, including birds, rodents, and humans.
Below are more Beautiful Drawings from Cajal
“Photomicrographs from Cajal’s preparations (housed in the Museo Cajal at the Cajal Institute, Madrid, Spain) of the cerebral cortex of a newborn infant, showing neurons impregnated by the Golgi stain” (Source: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1906/cajal-article.html)
“Cajal’s drawing of the cerebellar cortex (from a preparation based on Golgi impregnation of a kitten cerebellum). The letter A marks the Purkinje cells with their characteristic dendritic ramifications.” (Source: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1906/cajal-article.html)
“Cajal’s drawing of the cerebellar cortex (from a preparation of the cat cerebellum stained with methylene blue) showing the axons of Purkinje cells which exit from the cortex directed downwards.” (Source: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1906/cajal-article.html)
“Superficial layers of the human frontal cortex drawn by Cajal on the basis of Golgi impregnation. The main cell types of the cerebral cortex i.e. small and large pyramidal neurons (A, B, C, D, E) and non pyramidal (F, K) cells (interneurons in the modern nomenclature) are superbly outlined.” (Source: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1906/cajal-article.html)
Cajal also painted subjects independent of science. Below is an extraordinary self-portrait of Cajal at his work desk.