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Concealed Neuroanatomy in Michelangelo's Separation of Light From Darkness
June 21, 2010 10:16 PM   Subscribe

In a Michelangelo Fresco, Visions of a Brain Stem. "It has been hiding in plain sight for the past 500 years, and now two Johns Hopkins professors believe they have found it: one of Michelangelo’s rare anatomical drawings in a panel high on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was a conscientious student of human anatomy and enthusiastically dissected corpses throughout his life, but few of his anatomical drawings survive. This one, a depiction of the human brain and brain stem, appears to be drawn on the neck of God, but not all art historians can see it there."
posted by homunculus (62 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
In other news: cloud looks like sheep.
posted by pompomtom at 10:21 PM on June 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Disclosure

The authors have no personal financial or institutional interest in any of the drugs, materials, or devices described in this article.
posted by egypturnash at 10:29 PM on June 21, 2010


I just received my Associate's Degree in Neurosurgery with a minor in Art History, and I'm not seeing it.
posted by mrnutty at 10:39 PM on June 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


It is a throat, and Professors Suk and Tamargo do not have permission to perform surgery on my brain.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 10:50 PM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just received my third glass of Gewürztraminer, and I'm not seeing it.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:52 PM on June 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


I can see it, but only after having it pointed out - pareidolia abounds.

It's plausible, but (almost) impossible to be sure either way.
posted by antiquark at 11:00 PM on June 21, 2010


Where did I read about this?
posted by grobstein at 11:04 PM on June 21, 2010


I was just in the Sistine Chapel a few weeks ago and the tour guide pointed out a "brain" to us in one of the frescoes. It does seem to me that the red cloth surrounding God and angels does sort of take the shape of a brain seen from the side.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 11:05 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where did I read about this?

Here, maybe?
posted by homunculus at 11:10 PM on June 21, 2010


Thanks for the post, homunculus, I was going to look into what the tour guide told us about Michelangelo, but it seems you've done the research for me already.

Michelangelo was definitely an interesting man.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 11:14 PM on June 21, 2010


It is a throat, and Professors Suk and Tamargo do not have permission to perform surgery on my brain.

Can they perform surgery on your throat?
posted by davejay at 11:21 PM on June 21, 2010


Meshberger's argument that there's an image of the brain in the shroud is convincing and some one else sees a kidney. I can't see this neck thing.
posted by bhnyc at 11:22 PM on June 21, 2010


Yeah...scientists should know off the bat that once they start looking for something, they will find data that alludes to it.

This is TOTALLY unlike finding a virgin mary on a tortilla!
posted by hal_c_on at 11:29 PM on June 21, 2010


"the cingulate sulcus is suggested by the contours of the hip of the angel", as it ever did. The contours of a hip of an angel should indeed contain all things possible, or it's not angel enough for me.
posted by unliteral at 11:30 PM on June 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Can they perform surgery on your throat?

Maybe. If they turned it into another brain, that would be pretty neat.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 11:31 PM on June 21, 2010


Okay, even after having spent far too many hours in art history classes studying Michelangelo, this is the first time I heard anyone claim he actually dissected bodies to do anatomical studies. A quick survey of some art history resources says there are no known examples of Michelangelo works drawn from dissected anatomy. There are plenty of muddled accounts from his contemporaries (or followers) but nothing I would consider authoritative, they are just as likely to be speculation, or defamation from rivals.

So I call BS.

Anyway, there are far more interesting (and obvious) "secrets" in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. For example, the "Fall and Expulsion of Adam and Eve" panel, where Eve has just "tasted the forbidden fruit," Adam's penis.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:35 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eve has just "tasted the forbidden fruit," Adam's penis.

A low-hanging fruit if ever there was one.
posted by wabbittwax at 11:51 PM on June 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Ramen!
posted by homunculus at 12:37 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I don't see a fist. I saw the movie F.I.S.T." --Tom Servo
posted by dirigibleman at 12:43 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sounds like these jokers have got throats on the brain! I mean... brains on the throat. On the brain. Throat. Wait, I'll come in again.
posted by No-sword at 12:56 AM on June 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Can they perform surgery on your throat?

Maybe. If they turned it into another brain, that would be pretty neat.


Sure, that sounds like a good idea until you discover that, despite your two brains, you're unable to eat and ironically starve to death. For you see, there are some things with which man was not meant to meddle!

(...in the Twilight Zone)
posted by The Tensor at 1:04 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not buying it. Not, you know, that Michelangelo wasn't a genius but investing meaning in the products of famous people, especially where there is room for interpretation, is a thread that runs from before Jesus right through to Lady Gaga.
posted by vapidave at 1:56 AM on June 22, 2010


I want to believe... but no.
posted by rokusan at 2:24 AM on June 22, 2010


This is actually the basis for the next Dan Brown book, I believe.
posted by jbickers at 2:49 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look, I have found that, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a brain. That's just how it is.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:52 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


God has a goiter.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:38 AM on June 22, 2010


Next up, Guernica is actually a rebus!
posted by xingcat at 4:40 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Clearly, the only reason Michelangelo would be dropping hidden bits of anatomical illustration into his paintings is that he was taunting the ecclesiastical authorities who were desperately trying to hunt down the serial killer who was terrorizing Rome at the time.
posted by ursus_comiter at 4:46 AM on June 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Eve has just "tasted the forbidden fruit," Adam's penis.

Adam seems pretty uninterested. So why was he banished from the garden?
posted by DU at 4:54 AM on June 22, 2010


If Michelangelo worked from studies of dead bodies, then he must have had access to dead gladiators or something, because all of his figures, including the women, are effing HUGE.
posted by crunchland at 4:58 AM on June 22, 2010


If Michelangelo did dissect bodies, he might have used some of the forms and textures that he discovered in his paintings, just as an artist who spends a lot of time staring into his coffee cup might incorporate the dreamy interplay of dark-roasted drip and heavy cream into his work. Doesn't mean that he was trying to hide anything.

Also, crunchland, there's been some speculation that Michelangelo's women were (at least in part) male models with breasts appended.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:30 AM on June 22, 2010


Michelangelo's women were (at least in part) male models with breasts appended.

Which alone should end any speculation about his close attention to human anatomy.
posted by DU at 5:31 AM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Missing the LOLPeopleWhoFindtheFaceofJesusonToast tag if you ask me.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:35 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eve has just "tasted the forbidden fruit," Adam's penis.

Adam seems pretty uninterested. So why was he banished from the garden?


I'd say that'd be exactly why.
posted by doublehappy at 5:37 AM on June 22, 2010


I thought of that, but it seems odd that Eve would be banished for something Adam would be NOT banished for enjoying.
posted by DU at 5:39 AM on June 22, 2010


Ohhhhhh I see it.

It's a sailboat.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:45 AM on June 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


I am seriously the first person to link to this? Wow.
posted by The Whelk at 6:04 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


This fpp needs the pareidolia tag.
posted by aught at 6:13 AM on June 22, 2010


I'm not seeing it, except in that sheep-in-clouds kind of way.
posted by Forktine at 6:14 AM on June 22, 2010


Anthropomorphic pap
posted by Burhanistan at 6:26 AM on June 22, 2010


Was it the artist's intent to show that God is the product of man's intellect?

I'm going to say yes here, OK? Right: Yes. ok that's dealt with thanks
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:26 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here is a clearer diagram of a brainstem
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:27 AM on June 22, 2010


I can't believe no one's linked this yet.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:41 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


And I bet these people genuinely think they've made some kind of profound discovery.
posted by Theta States at 6:41 AM on June 22, 2010


I always thought the brain-shaped shroud was there deliberately, to visually depict the belief that God was the mind that designed all this 'life, the universe, and everything' stuff. But in a subtle way, like the fed-ex arrow.

(Nobody's linked to this yet? I gotcha covered.)
posted by cmyk at 7:20 AM on June 22, 2010


Adam seems pretty uninterested. So why was he banished from the garden?

I'd say that'd be exactly why.


Yaeh, cuz it's Adam and EVE, not Adam and Ste... wait, hold on. Adam is not St... no, no, that's not it. I'll come in again.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:20 AM on June 22, 2010


I don't know about a brain stem but you can clearly see from the chin that it's the impostor William Campbell, soon after the accident that killed Paul.
Also the license plate on the Volkswagen reads, "-429 IF."
posted by chococat at 7:28 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I totally see it. Obviously, part of it looks like a throat, but why would he draw bumps under God's chin? I don't know anybody with three circular bumps under his chin.
posted by wheeooh at 7:39 AM on June 22, 2010


God has a skin condition; we don't talk about it much because he's embarrassed about it and besides they're hardly noticeable unless you know what you're looking for.
posted by Think_Long at 8:02 AM on June 22, 2010


Was it the artist's intent to show that God is the product of man's intellect?

Or that the intellect was what God gave man. Gettin' all Deist up in there.


On another front, I always thought it was neat that in the Greek mythical tradition, that the being who gave man fire was Prometheus which, in terms of etymology is "forethought."

"Forthought" was also responsible for the Greeks sacrificing the shit parts of an animal's carcass, so that after the ritual necessaries were complete, they could all have a nice meal.
posted by Trochanter at 8:02 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't believe no one's linked to this yet.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:57 AM on June 22, 2010


I can't believe no one's linked to this yet.

I agree with his never gonna give you up policy, but I disagree with his never gonna let you down policy.
posted by Trochanter at 9:01 AM on June 22, 2010


I mentioned this to a coworker a few weeks back and when I went to look for an article about the whole saga I couldn't find anything decent. I ended up putting together some stuff for her that I've built off of below...

Here’s a guide to the scenes I'll be referencing.

The contention in 1990 was that the “God Creates Adam” panel, 4th main panel from the right, depicted a human brain in pretty good detail. That’s the picture included here, though on the write up they are writing about another later claim.

A zoomable version from the Vatican is available.

The most recent one (2010) is about the first panel from the right, “God divides light from darkness” (big version).

This article has some good pictures and text to explain it, but be ware – there is a picture of a real brain for comparison.

There is also a contention that in the 3rd panel from the right, God’s robe is shaped like a human kidney. I’m less certain of this one but can sort of see it in a diagram. Rotate it clockwise once to match the panel.

So that’s panels 1, 3, and 4. The big question now is what is in panel 2 (Vatican zoomable), and is there anything in the rest of the panels? To a degree the setting is important. 100 years after Michelangelo painted it the Accademia dei Lincei was meeting in secret hoping they weren't caught and killed for practicing science held only to itself and not God. There's competing demands there. A need to preserve what you've discovered and share it with others versus the secrecy demanded by the times.

The folks before them, like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, had the same needs but had to go about it differently. Both were somewhat arrogant (check out Leonardo's CV) so they were trudging a fine line, and Michelangelo gambled. He painted sexual organs in his scenes on the Sistine Chapel that infuriated the Pope so much he had them covered them with fig leaves. The fury over that probably made people fixate on them and the few people like Michelangelo who'd dissected bodies and could have identified what he'd done were instead focused on those private parts or the fig leaves afterwords. That's pure conjecture on my part though.
posted by jwells at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


The big question now is what is in panel 2

a butt, lol

More seriously, in the same way that people see a kidney in the Dividing the Waters panel, there's sort of a stomach (or maybe liver)-shaped mass of robe in the Creation of the Sun and Moon.
posted by Copronymus at 10:11 AM on June 22, 2010


Where did I read about this?

Here, maybe?


And a previous FPP: "Some believe that Michelangelo's famous work the Creation of Adam depicts God superimposed on a cross-section of a human brain."
posted by ericb at 10:30 AM on June 22, 2010


Which alone should end any speculation about his close attention to human anatomy.

Don't you mean that it should end any speculation about his close attention to female anatomy? It's pretty clear, particularly from his sculptures, that he paid close attention to male anatomy.
posted by The World Famous at 10:41 AM on June 22, 2010


a thread that runs from before Jesus right through to [REDACTED]

STOP DOING THAT jesus shit hell can there be just one thread free of it?
posted by FatherDagon at 11:39 AM on June 22, 2010


Cracked talked about this back in January. It was one of those weird moments where something I had seen a thousand times before suddenly... just... became something else. Now I can't look at it and not see it.

I love it when art does that.
posted by quin at 1:29 PM on June 22, 2010


that brain around god is huge, but am always baffled at how small is adam's penis.
posted by liza at 4:58 PM on June 22, 2010


HEY LIZA there is an Art History reason for that. Aside from the fact that current Pop wasn;t hip to the exposed private swimsuit aera, there was also some neo-classicism going on, trying to emulate the old statues which, for them, where kinda recently found - and back then when they where making Attic Greek Men, a large penis was seen as base and animalistic, a proper nude had a discrete, rational penis.

That and in terms of proportion, I think they're good, Michelangelo had people like 9 feet tall and 57 inches wide.
posted by The Whelk at 5:09 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyway, there are far more interesting (and obvious) "secrets" in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. For example, the "Fall and Expulsion of Adam and Eve" panel, where Eve has just "tasted the forbidden fruit," Adam's penis.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:35 AM on June 22


WOW! i hadn't seen that before; nor the fact that she's holding at least half of it on her hand.

back in the day, when working on my PhD on baroque/neobaroque Spanish literature, i enjoyed all the hidden puns made with the word SABER by writers like Góngora and Cervantes or even a Sor Juana de la Cruz.

SABER doesn't just mean "TO KNOW" but it also means "TO SAVOR" --not just tastes, mind you, but to luxuriate in the physical knowledge of victuals and libations. there's some serious homosexual loving hidden in poems like Fábula de Polifemo.

thanks for the link.
posted by liza at 5:29 PM on June 22, 2010


btw: that last thing about the graduate work was latin american neobaroque literature AND spanish baroque.

bit of a derail: the latinoamericans who followed on the spanish baroque's footsteps did away with the need to hide the sexual imagery and went all the way with it. Am thinking of someone like Néstor Perlongher. what was interesting though was the fact he had to go out of his way to hide a lot of his criticism of the Argentina junta (the guys responsible for the desaparecidos) more so than his homosexuality or random sexual proclivities in his poetry.

so, am going to speculate that for Michaelangelo, hiding of any his scientific commentary was very similar to the hiding of political commentary of neobaroque writers and artists living under dictatorships that could turn you into the landfill of the local soccer field.
posted by liza at 5:45 PM on June 22, 2010


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