Medical illustrator Ian Suk and neurosurgeon Dr. Rafael J. Tamargo think that there’s something hidden in the Vatican: a brain. The two published a paper in last month's issue of Neurosurgery magazine that argues that Michelangelo incorporated one of his rare anatomical drawings into the Separation of Light from Darkness panel of the Sistine Chapels ceiling. God — Suk and Tamargo posit — is depicted with a brain and a brain stem.
“We propose that in the Separation of Light from Darkness, Michelangelo drew into God's neck a ventral view of the brain stem as well as the perisellar and chiasmatic regions,” their article states.
God’s beard is portrayed as unusually short, and the artist has represented the deity’s neck illuminated by a distinct beam of light, drawing attention to that curious focal point, and allowing for what Suk and Tamargo deem “a strikingly sophisticated ‘phantom view’ of the ventral brain… one that would not have been beyond the talent of an artistic genius who also happened to be a master anatomist.” Michelangelo did, in fact, begin dissecting cadavers at age 17.
This is not the first time that scientists have attempted a viscerally minded interpretation of the art of the Sistine Chapel’s panels. In 1990, the Journal of the American Medical Association ran a piece pointing to the presence of a drawing of a human brain within the Creation of Adam, and in 2000, a nephrologist spotted a kidney in another of the ceiling’s panels.
But, as Pennsylvania State University associate professor of art history Brian A. Curran told the New York Times, “sometimes a neck is just a neck.”And as Suk and Tamargo point out in their article, the study of art is not a science: “In art history, there are few opinions that stand undisputed, and most are sustained by either circumstantial evidence or simply by the cumulative analyses of observers.”