Up for Debate

A Brainstem on the Sistine Ceiling?

It's like something out of The Da Vinci Code: Two scientists from Johns Hopkins University are claiming that Michelangelo tucked away a drawing of the brain and brainstem in a fresco on his famed Sistine Chapel ceiling. In a recent study published in a neurosurgery journal, medical illustrator Ian Suk and Dr. Rafael J. Tamargo contend the painter hid a drawing of the underside of the brain and brainstem in a panel of frescoes, and also delineated parts of the brain including the temporal lobe, the medulla and the pons. Very few of Michelangelo’s anatomical drawings have survived the passage of time, so Suk and Tamargo's finding is a real treat for the art world—but not everyone is convinced. Joanna Woods-Marsden, an art history professor at UCLA, is indignant at their suggestion: "This is complete nonsense, to put it politely,” she wrote to The New York Times, “To draw arbitrary lines all over Renaissance paintings and expect to be taken seriously by the scholarly community!”