Michelangelo Hid Anatomy Lesson in the Sistine Chapel
Source Newsroom: Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Human Brainstem Is Depicted in Image of God, Neurosurgery Authors Argue
Newswise — Detailed analysis of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes reveals a secret that's been hidden for 500 years: an image of the human brainstem in a panel showing God at the beginning of Creation, according to an article in the May issue of Neurosurgery, official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading provider of information and business intelligence for students, professionals, and institutions in medicine, nursing, allied health, and pharmacy.
"We propose that Michelangelo, a deeply religious man and an accomplished anatomist, intended to enhance the meaning of this iconographically critical panel and possibly document his anatomic accomplishments by concealing this
sophisticated neuroanatomic rendering within the image of God," write medical illustrator Ian Suk, BSc, BMC, and neurosurgeon Rafael Tamargo, MD, of The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore.
Image of Brainstem Concealed in Panel Showing Separation of Light from Darkness
The "concealed neuroanatomy" is found in Michelangelo's painting of the Separation of Light from Darkness, one of a series of nine Sistine Chapel panels showing scenes from the Book of Genesis. According to Suk and Tamargo, "anatomically correct ventral [front] depiction" of the brainstem can be seen in God's neck (Fig 4).
The authors present several lines of evidence to support their contention. History shows that Michelangelo was an avid student of anatomy, who performed cadaver dissections throughout his life. "We speculate that during his numerous dissections, Michelangelo possibly dissected the brain and spinal cord and that over the years he probably acquired a sophisticated understanding of gross neuroanatomy," Suk and Tamargo write.
They buttress their argument by showing that the anatomy of God's neck is inaccurate. That discrepancy has been noticed before, with one previous critic suggesting that Michelangelo had painted God with a goiter (enlarged thyroid). Suk and Tamargo also show that the light source illuminating God's neck differs from that of the rest of the painting. For an artist of Michelangelo's anatomical and technical prowess, it's unlikely that these discrepancies were simple mistakes, Suk and Tamargo believe. They also note that God's beard appears "rolled up," as if to draw attention to the neck, whereas other panels show God with a long, flowing beard.
Suk and Tamargo aren't the first to suggest that Michelangelo included images of the brain in his Sistine Chapel frescoes. A previous researcher found an outline of the brain embedded in the famous panel depicting the Creation of Adam (Fig 2).
"We speculate that having used the brain motif successfully in the Creation of Adam almost a year earlier, Michelangelo wanted to once again associate the figure of God with a brain in the iconographically critical Separation of Light From Darkness," Suk and Tamargo write. They note the powerful symbolism of incorporating the human brain into a depiction of "the first act performed by God in the creation of the universe... situated immediately above the altar in the chapel."
The authors acknowledge "the perils of overinterpreting a masterpiece"—and that not all art historians and other viewers will agree with their conclusions. However, they believe that a close analysis of the image, supported by the historical record, backs their interpretation: that Michelangelo "cleverly enhanced his depiction of God...with concealed images of the brain, and in this way celebrated not only the glory of God but also that of His most magnificent creation."
Neurosurgery, the Official Journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, is your most complete window on the contemporary field of neurosurgery. Members of the Congress and non-member subscribers receive 3000 pages per year packed with the very latest science, technology, and medicine, not to mention full-text online access to the world's most complete, up-to-the-minute neurosurgery resource. For professionals aware of the rapid pace of developments in the field, Neurosurgery is nothing short of indispensable. Visit the journal online at http://journals.lww.com/neurosurgery/.
About Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) is a leading international publisher for healthcare professionals and students with nearly 300 periodicals and 1,500 books in more than 100 disciplines publishing under the LWW brand, as well as content-based sites and online corporate and customer services. LWW is part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading provider of information and business intelligence for students, professionals and institutions in medicine, nursing, allied health and pharmacy. Major brands include traditional publishers of medical and drug reference tools and textbooks, such as Lippincott Williams & Wilkins and Facts & Comparisons®; and electronic information providers, such as Ovid®, UpToDate®, Medi-Span® and ProVation® Medical.
Wolters Kluwer Health is part of Wolters Kluwer, a leading global information services and publishing company. The company provides products and services for professionals in the health, tax, accounting, corporate, financial services, legal, and regulatory sectors. Wolters Kluwer had 2009 annual revenues of €3.4 billion ($4.8 billion), employs approximately 18,200 people worldwide, and maintains operations in over 40 countries across Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. Wolters Kluwer is headquartered in Alphen aan den Rijn, the Netherlands. Its shares are quoted on Euronext Amsterdam (WKL) and are included in the AEX and Euronext 100 indices. Visit www.wolterskluwer.comfor information about our market positions, customers, brands, and organization.