Michelangelo was known for being an enthusiastic student of human anatomy, and although few of his anatomical drawings have survived, two professors from Johns Hopkins now believe they have found a rare depiction of the brain on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Medical illustrator Ian Suk and Dr. Rafael J. Tamargo, a neurosurgeon, recently published an article in the May issue of the journal Neurosurgery that claims Michelangelo concealed a drawing of the underside of the brain and the brain stem on the neck of God in “The Separation of Light From Darkness.” The claim is based on the insight that God’s neck in the fresco is distinct from those of other figures in the same posture: “the anatomy of the neck is very, very unusual,” Dr. Tamargo states. “You would have to postulate that Michelangelo had a very bad day, which is unlikely because he was very meticulous.” Although this is not the first time that a picture of a human organ has been sighted in the Sistine frescoes, some details do seem to support the author’s positions. In this fresco, God’s beard is not long and flowing, but short to expose the neck, while light shines directly on God’s neck head-on even though the fresco is illuminated from the lower left. Responses to the article within the academic circle are varied. Some find the argument convincing; others are more skeptical: “I think this may be another case of the authors looking too hard for something they want to find,” says Brian A. Curran, an associate professor of art history at Pennsylvania State University. “Sometimes a neck is just a neck.”
View clips from the documentary The Michelangelo Code: Lost Secrets of the Sistine Chapel by ZCZ Films. Presented by Waldemar Januszczak.
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