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Michelangelo, the 16th century master painter and accomplished anatomist, appears to have hidden an image of the brainstem and spinal cord in a depiction of God in the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, a new study by Johns Hopkins researchers reports. These findings by a neurosurgeon and a medical illustrator, published in the May Neurosurgery, may explain long controversial and unusual features of one of the frescoes' figures.
...scholars have long debated the meaning of some anatomical peculiarities seen on God's neck in the part of the painting known as Separation of Light From Darkness. In this image, the neck appears lumpy, and God's beard awkwardly curls upward around his jaw.
Suk adds that the strategically placed brainstem might also explain another unusual feature of the painting. In this same image, God is depicted in a red robe with an odd tubular structure depicted in the chest. Although God wears the same red robe in other images in the fresco, this tubular structure is absent elsewhere. The structure has the right placement, shape, and size to be a spinal cord, say the researchers, suggesting another piece of hidden anatomy in the artwork.
The Creation of Adam (1508-1512) on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has long been recognized as one of the world's great art treasures. In 1990 Frank Lynn Meshberger, M.D. described what millions had overlooked for centuries - an anatomically accurate image of the human brain was portrayed behind God. On close examination, borders in the painting correlate with sulci in the inner and outer surface of the brain, the brain stem, the basilar artery, the pituitary gland and the optic chiasm. God's hand does not touch Adam, yet Adam is already alive as if the spark of life is being transmitted across a synaptic cleft.* Below the right arm of God is a sad angel in an area of the brain that is sometimes activated on PET scans when someone experiences a sad thought. God is superimposed over the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain and possibly the anatomical counterpart of the human soul. God's right arm extends to the prefrontal cortex, the most creative and most uniquely human region of the brain.
There is something else odd about this picture. A roll of fabric extends up the center of God's robe in a peculiar manner. The clothing is bunched up here as is seen nowhere else, and the fold clashes with what would be the natural drape of fabric over God's torso. In fact, they observe, it is the human spinal cord, ascending to the brain stem in God's neck. At God's waist, the robe twists again in a peculiar crumpled manner, revealing the optic nerves from two eyes, precisely as Leonardo Da Vinci had shown them in his illustration of 1487. Da Vinci and Michelangelo were contemporaries and acquainted with each other's work.