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Monday, 20 September 2010

Michelangelo: Secret Scientist

Michelangelo Buonarroti, know only by his first name to his mates, began dissecting corpses from a church graveyard in his teens, then, from 1508 (probably why he’s a bit famous) he began painting the roof of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Michelangelo was famously an artisitic genius, sculptor, architect and, the hidden gem in his professional repertoire; an anatomist! Although this is something that no doubt aided in his drawing of extremely accurate human depictions, Michelangelo concealed this side of himself by destroying almost all of his anatomical sketches and notes. However, artists (and nerds too) have been scrutinising his work for decades looking for hints at his secret double life and boy did they find a corker!

Back in 1990, Frank Meshburger proposed that in the famous central panel, God creating Adam was a depiction of the human brain in cross section.  See for yourself.

Meshberger 'speculates that Michelangelo surrounded God with a shroud representing the human brain to suggest that God was endowing Adam not only with life, but also with supreme human intelligence.'  However, some interpret these findings as a confirmation of many atheist's beliefs, that God originates in the brain of man, that he is a creation of the mind.

A new study by Johns Hopkins Researchers published in the May 2010 issue of the Scientific Journal of Neurosurgery claims to have found further evidence of hidden anatomical diagrams of the brain amongst the paintings in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. They believe that God’s neck is a concealed diagram of the brainstem and other neighbouring regions of the brain. Check out these pictures

In this panel, The Separation of Light from Darkness, Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo have found a ‘precise’ depiction of the human spinal cord and brain stem leading up the centre of God’s chest and forming his throat.

R Douglas Fields tells us that “Art critics and historians have long puzzled over the odd anatomical irregularities in Michelangelo’s depiction of God’s neck in this panel, and by the discordant lighting in the region”. I am not sure this is the answer they were after.

from Pixwit.com
Now some interpretations seem a little far fetched, after all, this is only speculation and Michelangelo’s true ‘meaning’ for painting the neck the way he did; or the brain-shaped shroud just so; died along with him. Some believe that Michelangelo was playing a cruel joke on his paymasters by putting God inside the human brain – the implication being that that is where God resides, as a thought of man only. Is the Sistine Chapel a vast biological puzzle, painted under the nose of Pope Julius II? A jigsaw only just beginning to be pieced together? Or, are we reading too much into this? I mean, I can certainly see the ‘brain’ in the image but at the same time, our clever little brains do 'like’ to make associations between recognisable images and the abstract, but saying that, I have seen quite a few brains in my time and that shape is pretty ‘brainy’.  Sacrilidge or homage? You decide.

For details of all references and image sources please email me.


  1. I think he may have been abit of a joker, with strong views and a sneaky way of showing it! I think they are certainly brain like, he was a clever man.

  2. It's definitely more believable than the 'Jesus in the toast' incidents. He must have been an extremely clever guy to have put this much thought into his paintings!

  3. Seems to me he must have been frustrated to bits because he couldn't show what he had learned - so he showed it this way - sort of thumbing his nose at the Pope.

  4. I don't know, the fact that God rests in the part of the Brain which was the sight (in the 16th c.) for common sense 'sensus communis' and hence the seat of the soul (as well as where all the senses were gathered) makes perfect sense religiously and scientifically for the period. God is in fact directly endowing Adam with his soul and his senses. This is just an observation, thank you for this article, a very good source :)

  5. Hello, I have just come across your article while researching about Michelangelo & The Last Judgement. I believe that there is also hidden imagery as outlined in this VIdeo of a Thought Experiment that reveals a 2D and 3D face encoded in the fresco. I am now trying to connect with Academics in Art History. Thank you! Please see the Video Transformations at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7QqlJuIjtA and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZNMJMOeTw0