Did Michelangelo Hide a Brain Drawing in a Sistine Chapel Fresco?

By Joseph Calamia | June 22, 2010 1:57 pm

What do you see in this detail from the Sistine Chapel frescos?


We’ll give you a hint: Look at God’s neck.

Still can’t see it? Take a look in a May issue of the journal Neurosurgery. What do a medical illustrator and a neurosurgeon see when they look at a Michelangelo masterpiece?

We propose that in the Separation of Light From Darkness, Michelangelo drew into God’s neck a ventral view of the brainstem as well as the perisellar and chiasmatic regions.

neck-brainThough finding this hidden drawing seems to take a lot of squinting and genuine imagination, the article’s authors claim that their beliefs have historical and artistic groundings. For one, Michelangelo was a master at dissecting cadavers, a hobby he started at age 17, the authors told NPR. They also point to the lighting, God’s trimmed beard, and the fact that, as a neck, it isn’t anatomically correct. For a brainstem, the authors think, it’s just right.

Some art historians aren’t convinced. Brian A. Curran, an associate professor of art history at Pennsylvania State University told The New York Times:

“I think this may be another case of the authors looking too hard for something they want to find. . . I don’t want to discourage people from looking. But sometimes a neck is just a neck.”

Related content:
Discoblog: Astronomers Identify the Mystery Meteor That Inspired Walt Whitman
Discoblog: Super-Size Me, Jesus: Last Suppers in Paintings Have Gotten Bigger
Discoblog: Artistically Challenged Man Becomes “Michelangelo” After Brain Surgery
Bad Astronomy: A vast, cosmic cloudy brain looms in a nearby galaxy
DISCOVER: Visual Science The Achilles Heel on Michelangelo’s David: His Shin

Images: Wikimedia, Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo / Neurosurgery

CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
  • john edwards

    This is not a brain-stem. It’s a goiter. Michelangelo suffered from a goiter while working on the Sistine ceiling as he famously reported in his poem: “A goiter I got from all this travail/ like those cats from Lombardy, from drinking bad water, or where ever.” This is a self-portrait of Michelangelo. Note how the figure kneels on the marble frame of the ceiling. Note also the flattened profile, the short beard, and short hair. A goiter makes sense. A brain-stem “hidden” in a throat does not.

  • cg

    Michelangelo had every reason to associate the creative power of God’s mind with the expression of it through his throat in the spoken Word.

    Genesis 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

    26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. ”

    John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….

    James 1:5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
    How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[c] these things ought not to be so.

  • http://www.paullamb.wordpress.com Paul Lamb

    Weren’t his figures painted mostly naked and then covered by later painters? Perhaps there are other hidden pictures in this ceiling that truly are hidden now.

    The famous portion showing god touching the finger of Adam has been interpreted as showing a brain (the whole god portion). I’m gonna give a bit of credence to this theory.

  • http://warriormindcoach.com/blog Gregg Swanson

    I guess we can find what ever we look for :-)

  • John Edwards

    The real point is that after 500 years we still care enough to scrutinize and debate this work. It’s not like there’s a huge popular audience for subtle nuances in Signorelli.

  • ss

    Figure C clearly shows that copulation is going on in God’s neck.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.

See More

Collapse bottom bar