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 (599 Responses)
  1. JJ

    This is Obama's fault

    June 28, 2010 at 22:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Angus Walters

    If our universe began with the BIG BANG, what was ithe universe like like few minutes BEFORE that event, and–more importantly–WHAT caused it, and WHY? Can any of you "smart alecs" tell me?

    June 28, 2010 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dogmai

      A few minutes before the Big Bang, it could have looked entirely different... As to what caused it, could it be by a terrorist of the Universe blowing himself off? Why? Maybe because he felt that he was doing the right thing for "his" people?

      June 28, 2010 at 23:05 | Report abuse |
    • John

      A few minutes before the big bang, "hey good looking do you come her often?"

      July 21, 2010 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
  3. MP

    Really? I thought he was hiding a multi-scoop icecream cone.

    June 28, 2010 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. john

    The painter's point was that god is the creation of man's brain. We make our own gods.

    June 28, 2010 at 23:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Luke Walker

    It's nothing more but a secret message to the Russian spies. Wait until FBI decodes it.

    June 28, 2010 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. guest

    The eyes are on the beard with the spinal cord going down between God's, uh, pecs. It looks like one of those needleheads from Jimmy Neutron. Only it's facing the opposite direction God is facing. Towards the darkness, not the light. Maybe because man WANTS to look to the dark and not the light? Also, God spoke day and night, and it was so. If we are created in God's image, then he has vocal cords, a throat, a neck. And He breathed into Adam and he came to life. Again with this general region of the neck He made man alive. The brain stem and the spinal cord are developed very early in conception, soooooooooooooo.... God spoke, breathed, man was made to come to life? Maybe you don't see the needlehead because you don't WANT the needlehead to be there?

    June 29, 2010 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. guest

    Anybody see the needlehead now, when before they couldn't? The painter cast lighting from two different points of view, basically spotlighting the eyes, brain stem, and spinal cord! Right above the pope, where everyone would eventually be staring at it. And it's been there for hundreds of years and we didn't notice. I mean, he made it an almost grotesque, disfugured depiction of the Almighty to make sure we see it, and we still choose not to see it! If you see now what you couldn't see before, what does that say about the rest of your thinking? What's been right under your nose blasting proof of it's existance all along? If you can open your mind just a sliver and admit you DON"T KNOW EVERYTHING, then you get the painting!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 29, 2010 at 00:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. jbrown

    Maybe Michelangelo meant to suggest that god is actually a creation of the human brain, not the other way around.

    June 29, 2010 at 01:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Amy

    This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. If you look at Michelangelo's other works, the way he painted anatomy matches perfectly with this angle of God's face. AND while Michelangelo may have put secret messages into his paintings, the fact that he painted a brain in God's CHIN is the most preposterous thing I have ever heard. If he wanted to do that...he would have painted the brain where the brain belongs...you know, to show us that he understood anatomy. Last time I checked, the human brain doesn't belong in the chin. I thought Scientists were supposed to be smart people...this Tamargo guy sounds like a complete idiot. I wouldn't want him anywhere NEAR my brain. He might operate on my chin accidentally. I am disappointed with CNN for even giving credence to crap like this.

    June 29, 2010 at 02:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Joe

    There is no god.

    June 29, 2010 at 02:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. drphill

    Make me want to take out my old Beatles albums and play them backwards.............cranberry sauce

    June 29, 2010 at 02:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. 11bgg

    I guess you dont have to be a religious fanatic to convince yourself your seeing images that dont exist. As an artist I see a better explanations. He for whatever reason did not use a model when painting the jaw line and attempted to use memory. Was the painting done before his talent was fully developed or when on the decline, if the latter even occured. But my 1st idea is that the same artist did not do that painting. We artists can recognize art styles and though I dont care to break it down, they dont appear to have been done by the same person.

    June 29, 2010 at 02:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Epidi

      Yes, the masters often used thier students to work on some sections of thier art work for them – usually the tedious repetitious sections tho – nothing that stands out front in composition. I'm surprised he would let an apprentice or Journyman work on the image of God however. Who knows? Perhaps he did. I agree that it looks below par of his usual work.

      June 29, 2010 at 04:16 | Report abuse |
  13. chad

    yea............. and Jesus was in a piece of toast.

    June 29, 2010 at 03:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Dee

    Well if he was including the brain stem, perhaps he should have put it in the back of the neck instead of the front?

    June 29, 2010 at 03:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Fred

    If you see an apple, paint an apple.

    June 29, 2010 at 03:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Epidi

    Michaelangelo did not really want to paint the Cistine Chapel. He wanted to sculpt more than paint but the Pope bade him to paint it, and in those days, who would pursue an argument with the head of the church? He could have lost $ backing and patronage of his art. He would have been black balled and no one else dare to hire him. I think he did it to spite the Pope for making him lie on his back for so long doing a job he didn't really want to do, LOL.

    June 29, 2010 at 04:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. NinaAsUsual

    Sure this isn't just confirmation bias?

    June 29, 2010 at 05:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Dontbuyit

    It's like a Rorschach test in psychology. What do you see in the inkblot?

    June 29, 2010 at 05:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Badonkadonk!

    TITS OR GTFO!!!!1!

    June 29, 2010 at 06:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. george

    you grew up knowing right from wrong because God put the fact that He is in everyone. its called a conscience.
    the problem is satan has blinded the eyes of unbelievers so they cant see this, to look closely at all that is and still be able to say there is no God proves this point. Much less isnt it amazing how much time people spend trying to convince each other that something that supposedly doesnt exist, doesnt exist. while you are breathing you have a chance. God wants a friendship with you so bad He let His Son die to make it possible, doesnt that carry more weight than some pitiful phony christian. remember satan wants you in hell and he will do whatever he can to get you there. DONT BELIEVE THE LIES. turn to Christ with you heart and life He alone can save your soul!

    June 29, 2010 at 07:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Mario Seoane

    Michelangelo's Code?

    June 29, 2010 at 07:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. max

    Michelangelo was a goddamn genius..of proportions that I doubt many people living or dead, existing yet or not, will ever understand.

    June 29, 2010 at 07:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Alan

    I don't see it. That's right up there with the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich.

    June 29, 2010 at 07:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. barowner

    It's funny how "scientists" ridicule people for seeing Jesus in a piece of toast and then they see the brain stem in a painting. Doesn't anyone else see the irony in this? It is just that–YOU SEE WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR!

    June 29, 2010 at 07:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Cory

    A neurosurgeon suffers from a bit of paredolia and no one points out the irony?

    June 29, 2010 at 07:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. SoulBrotha#1

    From a perspective of a person who thinks of the chapel painting as nothing more than just a beautiful painting , this is clearley looks like it always has and that is the very detailed stucture of a very stong neckline and a very detailed view of a strong persons adams apple, STOP TRYING TO MAKE SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING , your devaluing the greatness of this historical piece

    June 29, 2010 at 07:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bioartchick

      Actually, the brainstem looks nothing like the neck, and someone like Michaelangelo who studied anatomy would have known this. Secondly, the angles of perspective between the brain stem in the neck and the head are exactly the same. It is also placed in the anatomically correct position relative to the skull when you think about the structure being behind the neck (more in the head), than the neck itself. This does not ever happen by chance.

      And lastly, I'd say recognizing what the artist knew and considered while creating this piece expands its value, and gives us a richer picture. Just because it makes you question something that might be uncomfortable for you doesn't mean the consideration of new information is a bad thing.

      June 29, 2010 at 14:18 | Report abuse |
  27. Sarah

    I prefer to think that Michaelangelo found humor in religion and may be trying to say that god is a result of human imagination. 🙂

    June 29, 2010 at 07:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Nicholas M Cummings, Rochester, MA

    As juvenile as this is, it would be funny if he hid penis images and/or if it turned out all of these "brain stems" were just an underneath profile of a dong lol

    Seriously, I think these people are reading WAYYYYYY too far into this

    June 29, 2010 at 08:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Kermit Roosevelt

    Whether or not Michelangelo did hide a drawing of a brain stem on God, the assumption of his intent is ridiculous. Should you then assume that Disney artists think the penis should be revered because they hid one on the cover of the "Little Mermaid" video? Or were they just flipping the bird to Michael Eisner?

    June 29, 2010 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kermit Roosevelt

      Damn you, Cummings for beating me to a juvenile penis joke by seven minutes!

      June 29, 2010 at 08:11 | Report abuse |
    • rmj92

      <<< furiously looking for that old little mermaid vhs box now 😀 too funny!

      June 30, 2010 at 09:38 | Report abuse |
  30. Guest 2

    Only one way tell if there is a God, I will let you know when I am dead,

    June 29, 2010 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. avenirv

    God had the brain in his body and created the human based on himself. then Who created the God ?

    June 29, 2010 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Russell Smith

    Pleeeaaaassssseeee..... get a job.

    June 29, 2010 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. leganycgal

    God is a myth....a wonderful story made up thousands of years ago to control the masses. It's the greatest story/lie ever told, and look how well it worked, we're still killing one another over it. Yes, we're very advanced as a society aren't we?

    June 29, 2010 at 08:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Rob H.

    WOW, CNN bloggers are the smartest of them all. Need not to read this finding nor study science, I'll just come to CNN comments to become wiser. Michael Angelo and Leonardo were smarter sleeping than everyone here including myself. They were clearly hundreds of years ahead of their time. And men like that only come once in 1000, the last of their kind I would say wrote the US constitution. And sorry for most of you, Obama still needs another 800 years.

    June 29, 2010 at 08:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Seth

    Could it not of been a correction of some sort that he played into the neck of God? Say he was about to draw a brian stem and changed his mind about it but couldn't paint over it for some reason.

    June 29, 2010 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Jerry

    OMG are these people for real.Talk about reading into some thing a little to much.If you look at the painting all he did was (TIE) the beard togather ...GEZZZZ it has NOTHING to do with a brain stem and/or Brain...I think all the people saying it has something to do with a brain stem,NEED to have their brains CHECHED!!!...........

    June 29, 2010 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. steveinkc

    A nice "Eff You" to Julius II obviously.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. papo

    ok.. now what

    June 29, 2010 at 09:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Sockboy

    For crying out loud, it's just the way he painted the throat. That'd be like me drawing(or at least trying) an ocean scene and then someone coming out and saying that I'd drawn out the schematics for a cold fusion reactor. I think people are just reading too much into this painting.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Rich

    Castles and clouds, look long enough at anything and you will come up with something other than what the image is.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Florida

    The neck bears no resemblance to a brain stem. People read way too far into things.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Hal Jordan

    They should be focused on finding cures, not interpreting art. That's the purpose of college students who are trying to get their humanities credits fulfilled.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. fatboy

    The picture also shows that God has man boobs.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. JoseF

    Actualy MichaelAngelo and other artist & writers were opposed to the church. That's why all the hidden messages, & pagan references. They secretly fought the church in this form .These guys were Pagans & never converted to the hipocritical religion called christianity.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Free Will

    For those that believe, God gave us free will so that we may come to Him of our own will. When we choose not to, we allow evil to enter our lives. Our calamities are of our own making, in the group sense. Theists call it God, Easterners Karma, and others What Goes Around Comes Around and the Golden Rule.

    Christians believe what Jesus said: we start fresh from right here, right now. This is how you should live (do unto others...), and if you do not there are eternal consequences.

    True Christians, Jews, Hindi, Buddhists, etc are rarely noticed because they live lives of modesty, love, and hope. It is the liars, knaves, and conmen who use the name of God, Jesus, their political party, their science, or their HOA to run roughshod over others.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Justsayin

      You could not have said it more brilliantly!

      June 30, 2010 at 10:12 | Report abuse |
    • Observant

      Your eloquence is appreciated! I agree wholeheartedly with your statement!

      June 30, 2010 at 21:03 | Report abuse |
  46. rmj92

    ALL ART is and or can be interpreted differently by each observer.... like a big fluffy cloud can take the appearance of many shapes depending on what the viewer 'wants it to be/see's'. Or, perhaps it's just the way Michelangelo liked to paint that portion of the body.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Barbara

    Did Michelangelo hide a sphincter by any chance?
    I think we have too many scientists, they cost us a fortune and they must be bored out of their mind.

    June 29, 2010 at 09:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. laserles

    Michelangelo painted the image of GOD and we call it an incredible masterpiece!
    GOD forges images in small stones called petro photoglyphs and we totally ignore it!

    Here are some photo developments scribed by the One we call (and have called) GOD:

    June 29, 2010 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Lucien Alexandre Marion

    Salvador Dali ....Surrealism...(1904-1989)
    My friends, I wonder what he would have commented...
    Good Day From Canada

    June 29, 2010 at 10:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Anatoly

    Come on, it's like an ink blot, you can convince yourself that it's a brain if you start looking for one...

    June 29, 2010 at 10:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bioartchick

      The difference is that an ink blot is arbitrary and the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are very rigorously designed any controlled paintings done by a master, and one of the most famous artists of all time.

      June 29, 2010 at 14:12 | Report abuse |
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