Sistine Chapel secret?

"The Separation of Light from Darkness"A lot of popular fiction writers today continue to profitably mine Dan Brown-type theories portraying the Vatican as a place of dark secrets and cryptic puzzles.

You don’t expect respected scientists to advance similar ideas. But two neuroanatomists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore are proposing a theory that could be straight out of “The Da Vinci Code” or “Angels and Demons.”

They believe Michelangelo, the 16th-century artist who painted on the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, hid anatomical illustrations in some of the chapel’s frescoes — drawings concealed, no less, inside the body of God.

A recent Scientific American blog post summarizes research conducted by Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo and featured in a paper in the May 2010 issue of the journal Neurosurgery.

The pair believes Michelangelo was also an anatomist, but he kept it a secret by destroying most of his anatomical sketches and notes. One corresponding proof they offer is that the chest and throat of God in one of the Sistine Chapel ceiling panels — “The Separation of Light from Darkness” (above) — are an exact depiction of the human spinal cord and brain stem.

Is it true? You’ll have to be the judge. But, if it is, what message — if any — was Michelangelo trying to convey?

Suk and Tamargo steer clear of such speculation, but theories abound. Maybe Michelangelo was trying to show that God was endowing humans with the divine gift of intelligence. Or maybe he was trying to show — during a time when science and the church were sometimes at odds — that intelligence leads to God, cutting out the necessity of the church. Michelangelo, after all, although devout, unfortunately had a strained relationship at times with the church.

Certainly, no one can know for sure. What do you think?

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

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  • Craig Berry

    Interesting.

    Much has been written about how the ‘Creation of Adam’ in the Sistine Chapel, specifically the area of God the Father, contains an anatomically correct depiction of the human brain.

    Michelangelo had an uncanny ability to capture the human anatomy, especially in his sculptures. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he layered in some things like this.