Michelangelo: Renowned Artist and Expert Anatomist

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Introduction to Humanities 100

What if upon entering the Sistine Chapel, instead of sacred scenes from biblical Christianity, you saw images of human anatomy painted on Michelangelo’s famous frescos? Would it be profane? Symbolic? A form of self-expression? Certainly it would be surprising and seem out of place. Yet, a number of scholars believe just that: Michelangelo cleverly hid depictions of the human anatomy within the Sistine Chapel frescoes that showcased his advanced knowledge, skill and passion as an anatomist. A number of scholars discredit the notion of anatomical structures being hidden by Michelangelo within some of his most renowned work, such as Dr. Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt, a professor of fine arts at New York University, who states, ''… I think it is a retrofit of … modern knowledge onto Renaissance culture.'' (Angier) However, the case for these hidden images is strong. During his lifetime Michelangelo was famous for his unassailable anatomical renderings of the human body. Known for such meticulous human sculptures as the Pieta and David, he also painted stunning anatomically precise scenes such as the The Creation and The Last Judgment frescoes at the Sistine Chapel. While Michelangelo is renowned for his many artistic feats, in particular his sculptures, his lifelong dedication and involvement in human anatomy and cadaver dissection are less well known.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, born in 1475 in what is modern day Tuscany, was originally sent to study writing. To his father’s initial dismay he not only showed no interest in such a profession, but preferred instead a career in art. Yet, his father acceded to his thirteen year old son’s wishes and arranged his apprenticeship with a prominent painter. Within a year Michelangelo had made his way to study sculpture under the patronage of the Medici family. It was during this time, from 1490 until 1492, that Michelangelo is thought to have begun his in-depth studies of...
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