Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brainstem, spinal cord images hidden in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco

Date:
July 29, 2010
Source:
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Summary:
Michelangelo, the 16th century master painter and accomplished anatomist, appears to have hidden an image of the brainstem and spinal cord in a depiction of God in the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, a new study reports. These findings by a neurosurgeon and a medical illustrator may explain long controversial and unusual features of one of the frescoes' figures.

The odd depiction of God's neck in "Separation of Light From Darkness" (A) bears a striking resemblance to a brainstem, seen in tissue from a cadaver (B) and outlined in the painting (C).
Credit: Image courtesy of Neurosurgery.

Michelangelo, the 16th century master painter and accomplished anatomist, appears to have hidden an image of the brainstem and spinal cord in a depiction of God in the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, a new study by Johns Hopkins researchers reports. These findings by a neurosurgeon and a medical illustrator, published in the May Neurosurgery, may explain long controversial and unusual features of one of the frescoes' figures.

Michelangelo is known to have dissected numerous cadavers starting in his teenage years, these anatomic studies aiding him in creating extremely accurate depictions of the human figure in his sculptures and paintings, notably the statue of David in Florence and paintings of God and other figures from the Book of Genesis in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Although the vast majority of subjects in this painting are considered anatomically correct, art historians and scholars have long debated the meaning of some anatomical peculiarities seen on God's neck in the part of the painting known as Separation of Light From Darkness. In this image, the neck appears lumpy, and God's beard awkwardly curls upward around his jaw.

"Michelangelo definitely knew how to depict necks -- he knew anatomy so well," says Rafael Tamargo, M.D., a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "That's why it was such a mystery why this particular neck looked so odd."

To investigate, Tamargo enlisted the help of his Hopkins colleague Ian Suk, B.Sc., B.M.C., a medical illustrator and associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery. Together, the researchers realized that the unusual features in the neck strongly resemble a brainstem, the portion of tissue at the base of the brain that connects to the spinal cord.

"It's an unusual view of the brainstem, from the bottom up. Most people wouldn't recognize it unless they had extensively studied neuroanatomy," says Suk.

Suk adds that the strategically placed brainstem might also explain another unusual feature of the painting. In this same image, God is depicted in a red robe with an odd tubular structure depicted in the chest. Although God wears the same red robe in other images in the fresco, this tubular structure is absent elsewhere. The structure has the right placement, shape, and size to be a spinal cord, say the researchers, suggesting another piece of hidden anatomy in the artwork.

Tamargo and Suk explain that, if their proposition is correct, it wouldn't be the first time that such concealed anatomical depictions have been proposed to exist in the Sistine Chapel's ceiling. In 1990, Frank Lynn Meshberger, an obstetrician based in Indiana, published a paper suggesting that the shroud surrounding the image known as the Creation of Adam strongly resembles an anatomically correct brain.

"It looks like the central nervous system may have been too good a motif to use only once," Tamargo says.

The two researchers plan to continue searching for other hidden pieces of anatomy elsewhere in the Sistine Chapel painting.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ian Suk, Rafael J. Tamargo. Concealed Neuroanatomy in Michelangelo's Separation of Light From Darkness in the Sistine Chapel. Neurosurgery, 2010; 66 (5): 851 DOI: 10.1227/01.NEU.0000368101.34523.E1

Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Brainstem, spinal cord images hidden in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100728153935.htm>.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2010, July 29). Brainstem, spinal cord images hidden in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100728153935.htm
Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Brainstem, spinal cord images hidden in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100728153935.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Orthodontist Mom Jennifer Salzer on the Best Time for Braces

Orthodontist Mom Jennifer Salzer on the Best Time for Braces

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Is your child ready? Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) Now that the U.S. is restricting travel from West Africa, some are dropping questions about a travel ban and instead asking about visa bans. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
US to Track Everyone Coming from Ebola Nations

US to Track Everyone Coming from Ebola Nations

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) Stepping up their vigilance against Ebola, federal authorities said Wednesday that everyone traveling into the US from Ebola-stricken nations will be monitored for symptoms for 21 days. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctors Help Paralysed Man Walk Again, Patient in Disbelief

Doctors Help Paralysed Man Walk Again, Patient in Disbelief

AFP (Oct. 22, 2014) Polish doctors describe how they helped a paralysed man walk again, with the patient in disbelief at the return of sensation to his legs. Duration: 1:04 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins