Brain on the Sistine Chapel?


Just a coincidence?


  1. Its no secret Michelangelo based a lot of his work on human anatomy. He was known for going into morgues to dissect human remains to learn more about them.

  2. “Through dissection Michelangelo studied every known animal, and did so many human dissections that it outnumbers that of those who are professional in that field. This is a considerable influence that shows in his mastery in anatomy that is not matched by other painters.” Life of Michelangelo, Ascanio Condivi.

    1. there’s over 4 trillion estimated animals in the world, it is impossible to have dissected every known animal.

  3. I’d buy it if the artist were DaVinci. He might even have entertained the symbolic allusion (Brain as God), but was Michelangelo that much of a student of internal anatomy?

    Also, you truncate the hand from the God image. Had you left it in you’d see how much it resembles not just a brain, but a brain with a hypersensitized, protruding pineal gland, as seen in the film version of “From Beyond”

    1. The pineal is located in the center of the brain, and is actually not anatomically part of the brain – in the fetus it forms from tissues that migrate from the roof of the mouth. It is therefore separated from the brain via the blood brain barrier – though it secretes chemicals that easily pass through it.

      Still, the pineal body is located kind of dead center in the brain. The idea that God’s outstretched arm is supposed to represent an enormous pineal gland seems like more than a stretch to me; it seems extraordinarily unlikely. Plus, in Michaelangelo’s time (and with his background) the pineal body/gland was not considered to be of any particular importance (unlike, as we know, outside of christianity).

  4. So what he’s saying is, God is all in our heads? Pretty subversive thing to put on the roof of a chapel Michaelangelo, you sly dog.

    1. My point in the earlier quote was it’s not unreasonable to think it’s something beyond apophenia if the painter had an intimate, first-hand knowledge of the structures of human anatomy.

      Where people go beyond the pale is when they start ascribing the placement of certain elements with the “brain” outline to the function of those sections of the brain. The human brain was only beginning to be seen as the center of thoughts around the time of this painting and there was no way even advanced students of human anatomy could know where actions like emotion, memory storage, or the like took place.

      1. Sure, DCulbertson. I’m not sure, though, that Renaissance anatomists spent a lot of time cutting open the brain: I’d have to check, but if memory serves, they spent a lot more time on musculature, bones, the circulatory system, etc., than the brain. That is, yours is not an unreasonable hypothesis, but I’m not sure it would be borne out against a look at the relevant literature on Renaissance anatomy.

        That said, I’m totally not sure, and wouldn’t it be cool if he had based that on an actual brain?

  5. Not a Coincidence.
    A clue to the secret knowledge.
    The knowledge that our entire outward life and control over the circumstances of our entire outer life is dependent upon the type of thoughts we keep. That the quality of the thoughts we keep will either make our mar our lives. The church did not and Still does not want anyone to know this truth. The church is still trying to teach that we are all victim to outer circumstances
    and a supreme ruler that is outside of the individual not a part of the individual within.

  6. I remember our art history instructor telling us that the image resembled a brain, that it was intentional. God’s right arm is wrapped around Eve, being in the “mind of God” when he created Adam.

  7. I remember a teacher telling us about the brain similarity in the early 90’s. First publicly noted in 1990, according to Wikipedia.

  8. Although Michelangelo is responsible for the design and execution of the Sistine Chapel, the mind-bogglingly complex intellectual scheme underpinning the entire room was developed by the Neopythagorean Renaissance philosopher, Marsilio Ficino. Nothing in the room is an accident, nor–given Neopythagorean thought, and the relatively advanced understanding of human anatomy during the early 16th century–is it difficult to believe that God would be represented as a human brain. (Human and animal dissection was a fairly common pursuit among artists/scientists at the time). Christiane Joost-Gaugier, a world-renowned Renaissance scholar, has published an excellent treatise on the Sistine Chapel and Marsilio Ficino. (She was my advisor in college: Needless to say, her course on the Sistine Chapel was absolutely fascinating.)

  9. This er… blows my mind…

    Perhaps this is Michelangelo playing a bit of a joke on the church…

    If so, that guy had a pair, as that would have been a bit dangerous back then I would think.

    I certainly never noticed the resemblance before myself.

  10. I think it’s fairly generally agreed this is a deliberate, symbolic choice. A search for “creation of Adam” and “brain” will find a lot of discussion on the matter, more than I feel confident selecting from.

  11. Another theory holds that God and the pink cloud thingy is a uterus. Thus the dangers of “this thing looks like this other thing I’m thinking it looks like.”

    1. Yeah, you’ve got a good point there and I was going to mention the uterus thing. In that view, the green bit is seen as a cut umbilical cord.

  12. I’m kinda surprised at the number of boingers that are surprised. Normally, you guys know everything and have to educate my ignorant ass.

  13. It is not representative of the human brain…or a uterus. It’s actually the human heart, albeit highly stylized. Notice the Aorta (above and to the right of God), and the left ventricle (below God’s pointing hand).

    Michelangelo did not play a trick on the church. It’s just symbolism that’s hidden in plain sight. It is a metaphor to the effect that ‘God resides in the heart of mankind’, or ‘The miracle of life lies within the beating heart’. Something like that.

  14. I also had an Art History teacher tell our class that there is actually quite a bit of social commentary in the Sistine Chapel as well.

    For for example from the Last Judgement:

    When the Pope’s own Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said “it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully, and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather for the public baths and taverns,”[31] Michelangelo worked da Cesena’s semblance into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld. It is said that when he complained to the Pope, the pontiff responded that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain.

    Interesting stuff to be sure.

    1. Not only that, but Biagio-as-Minos has, instead of the tail which Minos uses to judge men, a snake wrapping around himself and biting him right in the place Biagio wanted to cover up (and actually, he did succeed in getting pants painted on the figures, but they have since been removed, save a few left as exemplars).

      I do love all the bitchy atheist comments though. What have you guys got to rival the Sistine chapel?

  15. it might also be a heart and judging by how religious he was i think it represents gods love for man kind

  16. So what he’s saying is, God is all in our heads?

    Not “all” in our heads — His arm is jutting out.

    Something like Athena emerging from the forehead of Zeus, except God is an old white guy surrounded by adorable putti.

  17. I can see Hmmmm’s point, that it’s a heart, not a brain: the pink cloth is the heart (the folds of cloth become arteries), and God and all of the little angels are clogging it up like cholesterol.

  18. But what’s really strange is that God is literally mooning us in the panel “Creation of the Sun and Moon” just adjacent.

  19. I first heard about this in art school. The interpretation I heard was a lot different than most folks here are taking it. The short version is that this was all happening at a time when european society was just starting to have an understanding of basic anatomy. while none of the specifics of the structure of the brain were understood as they are now, they did know that that was where the mind resided. Thus, the interpretation I heard was that Michaelangelo was symbolically saying that the spark of life endowed on man was the mind, that our intelligence was what made us special in the Creation.
    I’m not religious, but I’ve always thought that was a particularly poetic way of combining science with faith.

  20. Roach: “I do love all the bitchy atheist comments though. What have you guys got to rival the Sistine chapel?”

    …I’m not sure what you mean, I’d say atheists have, well, the Sistine chapel too!

  21. I don’t see it.

    And the Rock Man said, “You see what you wanna see, and you hear what you wanna hear.”

  22. ok people if you look at the picture you see god sitting
    on people wraped around in a red cloth well the red cloth takes the shape of the brain and the cloth looks like the brain stem so it has to be a brain nothing else nothing more

  23. Michelangelo DID study internal anatomy — contrary to what Umbriel posted on 12/16/2009 (post #4):

    By Garabed Eknoyan
    Section of Nephrology, Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA

    Published in: Kidney International (2000) 57, 1190–1201; doi:10.1046/j.1523-1755.2000.00947.x


    Michelangelo (1475–1564) had a life-long interest in anatomy that began with his participation in public dissections in his early teens, when he joined the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici and was exposed to its physician-philosopher members. By the age of 18, he began to perform his own dissections.

    His early anatomic interests were revived later in life when he aspired to publish a book on anatomy for artists and to collaborate in the illustration of a medical anatomy text that was being prepared by the Paduan anatomist Realdo Colombo (1516–1559). His relationship with Colombo likely began when Colombo diagnosed and treated him for nephrolithiasis in 1549. He seems to have developed gouty arthritis in 1555, making the possibility of uric acid stones a distinct probability. Recurrent urinary stones until the end of his life are well documented in his correspondence, and available documents imply that he may have suffered from nephrolithiasis earlier in life.

    His terminal illness with symptoms of fluid overload suggests that he may have sustained obstructive nephropathy. That this may account for his interest in kidney function is evident in his poetry and drawings. Most impressive in this regard is the mantle of the Creator in his painting of the Separation of Land and Water in the Sistine Ceiling, which is in the shape of a bisected right kidney. His use of the renal outline in a scene representing the separation of solids (Land) from liquid (Water) suggests that Michelangelo was likely familiar with the anatomy and function of the kidney as it was understood at the time.

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