June 28th, 2010
12:52 PM ET

Michelangelo hid brain image in chapel, scientists say

Some of Michelangelo's best known works may bear hidden messages suggesting that the human brain is among God's greatest creations,    scientists say.

The great Italian Renaissance artist dissected cadavers to familiarize himself with the human body, so he could better paint it. And, according to a new analysis, he included a representation of the brainstem in his representation of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which he painted from 1508 to 1512.

Neurosurgeons Dr. Rafael Tamargo and Ian Suk of Johns Hopkins University looked closely at Michelangelo's painting "Separation of Light From Darkness," which depicts the beginning of the universe. They found that the neck of God in this painting appears to contain the human brainstem.

"He recognized that the brain was an important structure, and I think he included it in the creation of the universe because he recognized that this is one of the most magnificent things that God had created," Tamargo said.

The brainstem is the most primitive part of the brain, through which all signals traveling to and from the brain must pass, Tamargo said.

In the image above, on the left, you can see a comparison between the neck of God in the painting and a real brain stem. On the right, notice the different angles of light on the figure, which was uncommon for Michelangelo.

It was not uncommon in the Renaissance for artists to do dissections for the purpose of creating more accurate works, he said. Leonardo da Vinci, 23 years older than Michelangelo, documented his brain dissections and did experiments on the brainstem.

The neck of the figure of God in Michelangelo's painting, zoomed in above in image G, is abnormal anatomically. This is curious because the artist's other works show a fine understanding of what the neck looks like, as shown in images A-D above (E is by Leonardo,  F is by Raphael). This suggests that Michelangelo wasn't "just having a bad day," Tamargo said.

Tamargo and colleagues are not the first to propose that Michelangelo hid brain anatomy in his paintings. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1990 by Dr. Frank Lynn Meshberger suggested that the Renaissance master's "Creation of Adam," another fresco from the Sistine Chapel, depicts the human brain.

Michelangelo probably didn't know the functions of the various components of the brain, but he understood it was an important structure, Tamargo said.

"Separation of Light From Darkness," located above the altar of the Sistine Chapel, is too high for people of Michelangelo's time to have been able to see details such as the brainstem, and telescopes did not yet exist. But the artist probably knew that someday, someone would notice, Tamargo said.

"I think he put a message there for the future, to let people know that he knew anatomy, and probably to enhance the meaning of that fresco," Tamargo said.

Check out the full study online here.

soundoff (521 Responses)
  1. charlie

    I think he wanted to comment on how God gets his deep James Earl Jones-esque voice. If he was showing us his brainstem knowledge, he would have put it in the correct position – not in the throat.

    June 29, 2010 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Sidb

    Dean – every time someone tries to prove evolution we end up proving that it is a fake. Too many to list. it is weak minds like yours that want to believe in such nonsense, and you are welcome to do so. As I am welcome to believe that there is a God who gave me the free will to choose him or choose myself. If I choose myself then I've been told where it will lead me. Do you think God wants to force people to love him. he is my heavenly father – stop this political bs of s/he. Do you have kids? Do you force them to love you? Do you give them options? Do you know that if they choose the wrong option they will get hurt, but you have to let them make that choice so they can learn? Why do you deny God the same? Why do people always want God to make the decision for them? It is your choice. Choose wisely.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Xrays4all

    Lol, how High do you think someone was to see that sh*t.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ----

      - I laughed so hard I almost swallowed my mouthful of jellybeans, but I'm with you!

      December 2, 2011 at 21:18 | Report abuse |
    • yvonnepoo

      oh no to see all that you don't need to be high you need to be brainwashed!

      October 12, 2015 at 08:31 | Report abuse |
  4. Joel Weymouth

    By the way: I will buy evolution when you Darwinian Monkey Men produce someone smarter than Sir Isaac Newton who believes in it. And yes Darwin's ideas were prevalent long before Darwin. Darwin was not a scientist: he was a theologian. Look it up. Treating him as an authority is like a woman getting a paps smear from a Auto Mechanic. Isaac Newton: a mathematician who invented Calculus and a Physicist was an ardent believer in Creation. Einstein said that his theories on relativity were pioneered by Newton. All of the "hacks" that are Darwinian – would be emptying Newton's trash can. And Newton was aware of the philosophy of evolutionary development: it had been around since the Greeks. And don't try the ridicule approach about Noah's Ark. I think it is far more believable that the 600+ species of dogs came from 3 kinds of dog (3 pair – one of each kind – not species) than the idea that they evolved over 2.5 Billion years from a chemical compound that came from rocks. And this compound is the progenitor of not only animals, but also plants. In other words: you are cousins to a kumquat. Talk about religious superstition!

    June 29, 2010 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. WOW

    Ironic: People see Jesus in toast and now we see man (brain) in god.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rick McDaniel

    What? No Virgin Mary, or Jesus, or whatever???? Gee, what a lack of imagination.

    June 29, 2010 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Harry

    Why is it that when a Scientist has an overactive imagination, we take him seriously.
    But when Joe Blow down the street sees human faces in a pile of rocks on Mars or Jesus on a piece of
    burnt toast we ridicule him?
    ...... aren't both equally deserving of ridicule?

    June 29, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. bambi

    How dumb can you get? That is God's dick.

    June 29, 2010 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. bambi

    That looks more like a penis.

    June 29, 2010 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. jarrett622

    Michelangelo was known to hide images inside his images, wasn't he? So what good does arguing do? And to those that continue to argue God v. no God....If God does exist he gave all of us free will...to believe or not.

    June 29, 2010 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. voodoo72

    Oh Great , Another religious story. I didn't even read the previous comments. I don't need to. I already know what they said.

    Let's see.

    The Atheist made a post about how much more intelligent he is than people who have a belief in a higher power. He touts his superiority by using science as his basis. But i bet you . He knows more about Religion than he does about science. It's funny how atheist always Talk more about God than people who really do believe in God.

    Then comes the faithful who want to convert the above mentioned atheist.

    Someone who talks about how the government is wasting our tax dollars .

    A few witty quips.

    A few stolen quotes.

    Some people cheering on a previous comment that reflects their view.

    A couple of flame wars erupt.

    And the always present. spam, off topic comment , And maybe a grammar Nazi.

    And then there comes me. A little bit of all of the above.

    Am i right?

    June 29, 2010 at 22:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. rmj92

    Just curious, am I the only person (commenting!) that has actually seen this Michelangelo work of art IN PERSON at the Sistine Chapel ? anyone else?

    June 30, 2010 at 09:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • xXNoobtuberXx

      yeah man, i have seen it in person infact i am looking at it right now, and speaking to you on my laptop. lol yeah man really sick though. by the way do you play cod 6 cause i do woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! your all nooooooooooobsssss!

      October 31, 2011 at 00:37 | Report abuse |
  13. rmj92

    The bible was "made up" and written by a bunch of drunken cloaked men as a form of "crowd control" for morons who would not "obey" their judicial systems..... and look.... it's apparently still working today ! Hmm. Who has the copyright on
    "the bible" ?

    June 30, 2010 at 09:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Justsayin

    If there is no God, then what is the purpose! Thank you Michelangelo for sharing your God-given talent with us all!!

    June 30, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Justsayin

    If there is no God, then what is the purpose? Thank you Michelangelo for sharing your God-given talents with us all!

    June 30, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • yvonnepoo

      And if there is a God can you explain to me the purpose?

      October 12, 2015 at 08:28 | Report abuse |
  16. Joanne

    Obviously, someone was very bored to be able to "see" something that isn't there. The shape of the brain was not known when this was painted by a genius artist who tried to upset the Pope that insisted this sculptor be a painter.

    June 30, 2010 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Observant

    It's in...it's hip...it's cool...it's trendy...not to believe in God! I have noticed this...especially in the current art world. Call me a stupid moron if you may, but the next time I have the chance to paint a landscape, I am going to thank God and appreciate His beautiful creation! Michelangelo...thank you for inspiring us with your God-given talent!

    June 30, 2010 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. DC

    "He included it in the creation of the universe because he recognized that this is one of the most magnificent things that god had created"

    I love that quote... A f*cking neuroscientist totally misses the point, and injects his own world view (ie. that god created the universe) into his findings without so much as a stutter... What happened to scientific objectivity?! The reason Michelangelo included allusions to the physical make up of the human brain in his work was precisely because he was poking fun at the Catholic church (and indeed religion in general).

    Examples of this kind of thinking are rife throughout his commissioned works. The main point to take away from all this is that he DIDN'T believe in an all-encompassing deity but he knew that, given the culture of the time, he could never openly make these claims in public without fear of being murdered in the name of the church. It's a testament to his intelligence and sly satirical nature that many of these cleverly disguised statements are only now being identified.

    It comes as no surprise that scientists have found more allusions to the human brain in Michelangelo's work, because that was precisely his intention the whole time: to illustrate that god is purely a creation of the human mind. It was his in-joke, and I still relish the fact that it's taken us so long to unravel all of the complexities of his subtle suggestions.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Observant

    One hundred years from now those of us in this chat-box will be in our graves and mostly forgotten. If mankind hasn't totally destroyed the planet, there will still be millions of people who stand in line eager to catch a glimpse of the works of the genius Michelangelo. There will still be non-believers in Divine Creation, and there will still be those that gaze to the Heavens in wonder of the Master Builder. If I could be here one hundred years from now, I would still be gazing in amazement

    July 1, 2010 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Lynn

    One hundred years from now those of us in this chat-box will be in our graves and mostly forgotten. If mankind hasn't totally destroyed the planet, there will still be millions of people who stand in line eager to catch a glimpse of the works of the genius Michelangelo. There will still be non-believers in Divine Creation, and there will still be those that gaze to the Heavens in wonder of the Master Builder. If I could be here one hundred years from now, I would still be gazing in amazement

    July 1, 2010 at 16:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Faye

    Message from Michaelagelo......lol...big time..

    July 2, 2010 at 18:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. ybs

    100% disagree – our private part is most important. Imagine life without it! 🙂

    July 12, 2010 at 06:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Marian

    Morons. Interesting how it's mostly a bunch of guys commenting on this and they don't see the obvious. It's obvioulsy a vagina painted on the neck, to confirm along with the breasts and swiveled rounded hips that God is a woman. To placate the church sponsors, he then had to finish off God with a male face and beard, intentionally painting as little face as possible. At least according to Michelangelo, God is a woman, morons.

    July 14, 2010 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. John S. Harvey

    "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become."

    July 17, 2010 at 21:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. 12000mah行動電源

    Im no pro, but I suppose you just crafted a really good point point. You undoubtedly fully comprehend what youre talking about, and I can truly get behind that. Thanks for staying so upfront and so truthful. 12000mah行動電源 http://www.powerbanktech.com

    June 21, 2013 at 23:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Sue Binkley Tatem Ph.D.

    I have published two books as we have now found ALL of the human body, albeit in parts, in Michelangelo's art. Sue Tatem, Michelangelo: Faces and Anatomy in His Art, Michelangelo's Secret Anatomy Book, Xlibris, Xlibris 2010, 2013. If you have a smail I will send you copies. I'm a retired Biology professor, Temple University, living and painting in Aspen, Colorado.

    December 15, 2013 at 06:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Jasmine

    It is my understanding that the "cloud" form around God in the "creation of man" mural is the brain.

    October 9, 2017 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
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