Michelangelo Hid Images in Sistine Chapel Paintings
The most amazing work of art I’ve ever seen is David by Michelangelo. At 17 feet tall, bulging veins and muscles render an immaculate representation of human anatomy and the flaccid pose captures the mood before his fight with Goliath.
There is no doubt, Michelangelo’s understanding of anatomy is incredible, but not surprising. His art education included dissecting cadavers while studying at the church of Santo Spirito. This is not a well known fact since he tried to hide his anatomist roots, destroying nearly all of his anatomic notes and drawings.
Maybe cadavers are harder to come by these days, but that’s not part of the art curriculum at most modern schools. That privilege is usually reserved for medical students, which is why it’s no surprise that three medical journals have published findings of hidden anatomic references in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings.
It took four years (1508-1512) for Michelangelo to paint the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The last four panels he painted include the suggested anatomic representations.
In the forth panel, Dr Frank Meshberger suggests the similarity between the red cloth surrounding god and the image of a human brain (Journal of the American Medical Association, October 1990).
In the third panel, Dr Garabed Eknoyan likens the wrap surrounding god to a human kidney, as reported in Kidney International in 2000. According to Eknoyan, Michelangelo was interested in the kidney function since he suffered from kidney stones during his adult life and mentioned it in letters and poems.
Finally, in the first panel (image below), Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo, report in the journal Neurosurgery (May 2010) that the neck details do not accurately represent a goiter, as previously believed. They argue that goiters typically occur lower in the neck and Michelangelo would not have made such an inaccurate representation given his demonstrated accuracy of anatomic details in all of his other paintings. Secondly, they believed as a deeply religious man, he would not depict god with this deformity. Most convincingly, they say the painting accurately details a ventral view (from below) of a brainstem, cerebellum, temporal lobes and optic chiasm.
They also suggest that God’s chest includes an anterior view of a spinal cord, which appears attached to the brainstem and a representation of optic nerves and globes around God’s legs and abdomen.
So, the 1st, 3rd and 4th panels are believed to include anatomic references. The cases are pretty convincing, so I wanted to study the 2nd panel for more hidden anatomy. Surely, Michelangelo wouldn’t skip the second panel, right? I came up with a few loose interpretations, butt I’ll let you judge for yourself:
Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton