Chapter 5

Two answers to three questions

Let us analyze these amazing facts.

So, what was Michelangelo hiding while painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

One of the best frescos on the plafond of the Chapel is “The Creation of Adam”.

Michelangelo. “The Creation of Adam” (1511).
The fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Resting on his right arm, the young and beautiful yet not animated body of the first man is lying on the ground. The Lord of Sabaoth surrounded with an assembly of wingless angels is stretching his right arm to Adam’s left arm. Another moment – and their fingers will get into contact, Adam’s body will become live on acquiring the soul. In descriptions of this fresco, the art critics usually note that the Lord of Sabaoth and the angels form an integrity that effectively balances the left part of the fresco. This is it.

However, with a more attentive look at what the artist created, it dawns on you that Adam is being animated not only by the Lord presented as a bearded old man accompanied by angels but also by a huge brain matching in detail the structure of the human brain.

A comparison of the detail of the fresco
“The Creation of Adam”
with the image of human brain

This should have been evident to every biologist or physician who knows the fundamentals of anatomy. Nonetheless, the centuries were passing by, and only in a half a millennium, Michelangelo’s intent became clear to us. The master encrypted in this fresco the idea of animation made by the reason of the Universe. Why did not Michelangelo give any hint to his contemporaries about what he had presented actually? A logical explanation is easy to find. The artist could study the brain only by way of autopsy. However, at the time of Michelangelo, desecration of a dead body would be given a death penalty. If seventeen-year-old Michelangelo had been caught studying anatomy, secretly doing autopsy in the mortuary of the Santo Spirito monastery in Florence, next day his own body would have been hanging in the third-floor window frame of the Signory palace, and the world would never have seen Michelangelo’s future masterpieces. The days of 1492, when, dissecting dead bodies and doing anatomical sketches, the artist was studying the human constitution, are separated from the appearance of “The Creation of Adam” on the plafond of the Sistine Chapel (1511) by nearly twenty years. Despite of such a long period, Michelangelo demonstrated an amazing correctness in presenting the convolutions and sulci of the human brain.

In 1990, American medical doctor Meshberger was the first who noticed similarity of the fresco “The Creation of Adam“ to the human brain. However, he concluded that the great master presented the inner structure of the brain. For the first time, I have established that Michelangelo presented in his fresco the external surface of the brain, with highly correct shape of the convolutions and sulci .

An external surface of the human brain

We can easily identify the lateral sulcus (sulcus lateralis) separating the frontal lobe (lobus frontalis) from the temporal lobe (lobus temporalis). The upper temporal sulcus (sulcus temporalis superior) and the lower one (sulcus temporalis inferior) delimit the medial temporal convolution (gyrus temporalis medius). The Lord’s right shoulder presents the medial lobe convolution (gyrus frontalis medius). The profile of one of the angels is a representation of the central sulcus (sulcus centralis) which is the border between the frontal lobe (lobus frontalis) and the parietal lobe (lobus parietalis). Finally, the heads of the two angels behind the Creator’s back are nothing other than the supramarginal convolution (gyrus supramarginalis) and the angular one (gyrus angularis). The author can explain why Michelangelo did not give the image of the cerebellum. In fact, Michelangelo did not know about the existence of the so-called tentorium of cerebellum interposed between the cerebrum and the cerebellum. Therefore Michelangelo, when extracting the brain from the brainpan, destroyed the cerebellum. This is a typical mistake of medical students doing their first autopsies.

The correspondences of the fresco details with the cerebral convolutions and sulci are too numerous to be explained by mere coincidence.

But there is more than that. Michelangelo loved presenting the naked human body, and he gave an obvious preference to the man’s beauty. Irving Stone who wrote a wonderful biographic novel about Michelangelo puts into Michelangelo’s mouth the following words: “I think the whole beauty, the whole physical might are comprised by man. Watch him moving, when he’s jumping, fighting, throwing a javelin, plowing, raising a burden: all his muscles, all his joints share the strain and load with amazing harmony. As far as the woman is concerned, I believe she only can be beautiful in the state of absolute rest”. When the artist presents women, he often provides them with male muscles – it is enough to give a look to Cumaen Sibyl in the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo. “The Cumaean Sibyl” (1510).
The fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo created naked Bacchus, David, the group of warriors at the cartoon “The Battle of Cascina”, the slaves for Julius II tomb, and many figures of the Sistine Chapel frescos. Even Christ is presented naked!

Michelangelo. “David” (1501–1504). Florence

Michelangelo. “The Battle of Cascina” (1542)

For instance, the sculptures “Crucifixion” (1494) in the Santo Spirito church in Florence and “The Resurrected Christ” (1519–1520) in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome present God the Son completely naked.

Michelangelo. “Crucifixion” (1494) in the church
Santo Spirito in Florence

Michelangelo. “The Resurrected Christ” (1519–1520)
in the church Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.
Photo from the book published in 1977

In “The Last Judgment” fresco, Michelangelo presented not only Christ but the Mother of God, as well as all the saints, as having no clothes. Later, when the prominent painter Paolo Veronese (1528–1588) was called to the Holy Office before the sacred tribunal for his liberty in “The Last Supper of Jesus Christ with His Disciples in the House of Simon”, he defended himself by referring to “The Last Judgment”. Romain Rolland in his book about Michelangelo’s life cited Veronese’s words at the tribunal: “I agree that it is wrong, but I repeat what I have said, that it is my duty to follow the examples given me by my masters. In Rome, in the Pope’s Chapel, Michelangelo has represented Our Lord, His Mother, Saint John, Saint Peter, and the celestial court; and he has represented all these personages nude, including the Virgin Mary, and in various attitudes not inspired by the most profound religious feeling…”

Bernard Berenson (1865–1959), the full member of the American Academy of Art and Literature, who lived the greater portion of his life in Italy, characterized Michelangelo’s creativity in the following way: “His passion was the naked life, his ideal was force. Humility and patience were as little familiar to him as to Dante, and as to all ingenious creative natures of all the epochs. Even having these feelings, he would have failed to express them, since his naked figures are full of might but not of weakness, full of horror but not of fear, full of despair but not submission”.

To understand the origin of Michelangelo’s vision we should keep in mind that since the age of fourteen (in 1489–1492) he was brought up at the court of Duke Lorenzo de Medici the Magnificent who took notice of the boy’s talent and treated him as a foster son. Thus the young artist since his early years was surrounded with art works of antiquity and frequented philosophical debates at Florentine Platonic Academy. He was greatly influenced by Neoplatonists Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) and other prominent figures of the Academy.

Portraits of Neoplatonists Marsilio Ficino, Angelo Poliziano,
Cristoforo Landino, and Demetrius Chalcondyles.
A detail of the fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (1486-1490)

Ficino adapted Platonism and mystical teachings of the late antiquity to cardinal doctrines of Christianity. His apology for the earthly beauty and dignity of man favored overcoming the medieval austerity and gave an impact to development of visual arts and literature. Pico asserted that every man combined the earthly origin, animality, and divine spirit. The reasoning of Ficino, Pico and others had the pre-eminent feature of humanistic anthropocentrism – tendency of deification of the man. Ficino, rejecting Christian austerity, treated Platonic Eros (Love) as creative aspiration for perfection and pretersensual beauty (Dynnik et al., 1957; Losev, 1960; Gorfunkel, 1970; Lavrinenko, Ratnikova, 1999).

Michelangelo’s admiration for antiquity did not force out his Christianity. Through his whole life those two conflicting worlds, the pagan one and the Christian one, were fighting for his soul.

Romain Rolland wrote “The great creator of amazingly beautiful forms, a man of deep faith, Michelangelo perceived the corporal beauty as something divine: a beautiful body is the Lord Himself making His appearance in a corporal shell. Akin to Moses facing the Burning Bush, Michelangelo approached that beauty with awe”.

Thus, Michelangelo did not see anything reprehensible in the images of genitals. He admired them as much as the other body parts of the man – the most perfect living being created after the image and likeness of God, as he believed.
However, that position was too difficult to defend in the XVI century! The master of ceremonies of Pope Paul III, Biagio da Cesena, expressed his opinion of “The Last Judgment”:

“This is a real shame – presenting, in such a wholly place, images of so many naked persons – brazen-faced, they are demonstrating their genitals; this work suits bathhouses and taverns but not the Pope’s capella.”

Michelangelo was quick to place Cesena into the underworld, figured as naked Minos with donkey ears. Minos’ body is twined by a huge snake that is biting off Minos’ penis. And when Cesena asked the Pope to make Michelangelo remove the image, Paul III replied, “If he had placed you into the purgatory, I would have attempted getting you out of there, but he put you into the hell – my power does not extend that far”.

Michelangelo. A detail of the fresco “The Last Judgment”
on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel

However, when Paul IV became the pontiff, the clouds started gathering over “The Last Judgment”. Once it was close to complete removal of the fresco. Fortunately, the affair came down to “dressing” certain naked bodies.

It is well known too that when in 1504 Michelangelo accomplished in Florence his statue of naked David it needed guarding, since the townsfolk tended to throw stones at it. The chaste nudity of David disturbed the Florentines’ modesty. For some time, ‘the immodest parts” of the statue were covered with gold leaves.

The ages are passing by, but hypocrites’ psychology persists. Recently even the sculpture of “The Resurrected Christ” has been “dressed”.

Michelangelo. “The Resurrected Christ” (1519–1520)
in the church Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.
Photo by the author. September, 2005

Michelangelo never dared present God the Father naked. Such a blasphemy would have cost him his life. Now, let us take a deeper look at the fresco “The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants”. Indeed, why is the Lord of Sabaoth presented from the back, and why does the cloth fit certain parts of the body so tightly? Let us, without adding anything to the picture, mark its outlines.

Michelangelo. A detail of the fresco
“The Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants”

Now let us flip the image –

Michelangelo. A detail of the fresco
“The Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants”

the fresco is on the ceiling and can be looked at from any side. It is obvious that the artist painted huge male’s genitals. The image length is nearly a meter and a half! Note that, from the anatomic point of view, the presentation is very correct. Medical workers know well that the man’s left testicle is often positioned a bit lower that the right one, which can be clearly seen at examination of the scrotum. We can read about it in any textbook or anatomy atlas for medical students. Michelangelo had a thorough knowledge of anatomy, and he presented the scrotum in that very way with his sculptures “David” and “The Resurrected Christ”. Similarly, the genitals’ structure is presented in the fresco “The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants”: the right part of the scrotum is positioned a bit higher than the left one. Correct presentation of even these minor details leaves no room for doubt as for what the artist presented in fact.

V. D. Dazhina (1986), the author of a series of publications about Michelangelo, though not even aware of what was actually presented in the fresco “The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants”, was very keen to notice that the composition “is stunning with the expression of tension that results from overcoming the stagnant inertness of the matter”. I think no one can put it in a better way.

In addition, on the same fresco, we can see an image of the female genitals too; they are positioned exactly against the male genitals. The clitoris, small and large vulvar lips, and vulvar cleft are presented in clear detail.

Michelangelo. The fresco
“The Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants”

A detail of the fresco
“The Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants”

The present author was the first (Efetov, 2006, 2007) who discovered these secret images.

There is no room for doubting the fact that Michelangelo encoded huge images of genitals. The whole bulk of his creations as well as specific symbols of the Sistine Chapel gives us too many hints for doubting. These hints include the great multitude of naked figures presented on the plafond and altar wall of the Chapel and the snake’s head unambiguously pointing to the organ of Minos’ body, as already mentioned above.

What was the point of presenting namely the brain and the genitals? In fact, information transferred by rational beings to future generations can be of two major types:

1. Genetic, or hereditary, information transferred from parents to children through the functions of genitals. Phallus is just a certain kind of a syringe that injects DNA into the organism of a would-be mother.

2. Non-hereditary information transferred from a generation to another generation through the functions of brain that produces information in form of art works, oral narrations, written and printed texts, and nowadays also in form of films, computer data bases etc.

Thus, we should not be surprised at the fact that Michelangelo put such a stress exactly on the genitals and the brain.
The great master’s idea is obvious: first, the fecundating source (the genitals) was enacted, and only then – the animating source (the brain that makes the human body alive) was applied. According to Michelangelo there are two steps of the creation of the world: Fertilization (symbolized by genitals) and Spiritualization (symbolized by brain).

Now it becomes clear why Michelangelo was so quiet when, by the Pope’s order, Daniele da Volterra was crippling “The Last Judgment” with drapery. Michelangelo was secretly laughing at that blind fuss of those who could not see the major symbols in his frescos.
Through the rest of his life, Michelangelo never could open his secret. The sword of Inquisition was hovering above his head – we should remember that in 1540 in Rome, the Jesuits Order was founded, and in 1542, the Sacred Congregation appeared. Michelangelo’s adversary Pietro Aretino made a report accusing the great master of heresy. And heretics were meant to go straight to the stake for burning. Romain Rolland gave a description of that horrible time in the artist’s life: “Quite a number of people were loudly expressing their indignation at “The Last Judgment”. Of course, Aretino was the loudest one. He wrote an exceptionally insolent letter worthy of Tartuffe. In fact, Aretino was threatening to report on the artist to Inquisition that was gaining the power: “to have no personal faith is less offensive than to insult the others’ faith so boldly”. Michelangelo did not respond to his foul, blackmailing letter that profaned everything that was sacred for Michelangelo – faith, friendship, honour; the letter caused Michelangelo to laugh scornfully and shed tears of humiliation. He spoke about some of his enemies with pejorative irony: “It is not worth while fighting them; the honor of a victory would not be great!” And even when the opinions of Aretino and Biagio gained consideration, the artist did not take any effort to put an end to slandering.”

What could Michelangelo do? His only possible answer was his art. He encoded one more symbol in “The Last Judgment” – it is the image of Saint Bartholomew. The art critic A. A. Guber comments, “The self-portrait of Michelangelo was noted on the skin that Bartholomew is holding in his left hand, and Bartholomew bears a likeness to Aretino. If this is true, Michelangelo’s audacity is really amazing: on one of the most visible area of the altar wall he presented his major adversary in the guise of a saint, with a knife in his hand, who has flayed Michelangelo”.

Michelangelo. A detail of the fresco “The Last Judgment”
on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel

The great master was always balancing at the razor’s edge. Yet he remained safe. He only escaped faggoting, poisoning, hanging and stabbing due to his genius. Right, the Popes needed cathedrals and their own sepulchres to be built, the walls and ceilings of palaces and capellas to be decorated with great frescos. However, if they had learned the content of the major enciphered message, nothing would have helped Michelangelo. Hence, he had to take his main secrete with him away, only laying a hope on us, – the descendants.
Thus, we have established that the great master’s creativity includes two devices that are well known today and frequently used by surrealist artists. One of them is called “double-vision”, or “dubious image” – focusing on the picture, the viewer discovers another idea in it, initially hidden. With Michelangelo, it is a hidden image of the human brain. The second device is more intricate: to see the hidden version you need to rotate the image by 180° or, in some cases, 90°. This is what was called “reversible image”. I discovered such an image in the fresco “The Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants”. As mentioned above, this fresco is dated to 1511, and I do not know any earlier instances of such images. If the image in this fresco is really the first of that kind, Michelangelo is the author of this method in art.
Classical surrealist Salvador Dali (1904–1989) used to study the great Florentine’s creations. There is a series of Dali’s pictures evoked by Michelangelo. Two of them inspired by “Pieta” and “The Creation of Adam” are shown as examples in the below two images.

Salvador Dali. “The Pieta” (1982)

Salvador Dali. “Figure Inspired by Michelangelo’s Adam on the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel”, Rome (1982)

Dali repeatedly made use of double-vision images in his works which include “The Invisible man”, “The Great Paranoiac”, “The Vanishing Images”, famous “The Slave Market with Disappearing Bust of Voltaire”, and many others. As for “Swans Reflecting Elephants”, it is a regular reversible image, or visual pun.

Salvador Dali. “The Invisible Man”

Salvador Dali. “The Great Paranoiac”

Salvador Dali. “The Vanishing Images”

Salvador Dali. “The Slave Market with Disappearing Bust of Voltaire”

Salvador Dali. “Swans Reflecting Elephants”

Nowadays there are plenty of samples of double-vision and reversible images in the Internet, for instance, on Some of them have quite specific titles.

E.G. Boring, R.W. Leeper.
“The Ambiguous Mother-in-Law” (1930).
Do you see a young cutie or an old woman with a huge nose?

A crow or a fisherman with a fish?
A reversible image to be rotated by 180°

A 180°-reversible image known as
“The Beauty and Alcohol” or “Before and After Six Beers”

A reversible image of a horse-or-frog.
To see the frog you have to rotate the picture but only by 90°

A girl’s face or flowers and a butterfly?

A girl’s face or two horses?

A landscape or a baby?

An American Indian’s head or an Eskimo
facing his igloo?

“Saint George the Victorious”.
Is this his face or his fight with the Dragon?

“A Clown’s Love”

“Society. A Portrait”

A 180° reversible image of a soldier-or-horse

An old man, or anybody else?

Speaking of double-vision images, I surely remember another artist of the 16th century, Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593). He was born in Milan; however, he spent the greater part of his life in Prague, being in the service for emperors of the Habsburg dynasty. Since 1563, Giuseppe was creating a series of unusual double-vision pictures. Those were portraits composed of fruits, flowers, fishes, birds, mammals, books, domestic items, etc.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo. “Summer”

Giuseppe Arcimboldo. “The Earth” (1570)

Arcimboldo used to create reversible images as well, but it was over 50 years after Michelangelo practiced that kind of novelty.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo. “The Cook”

Giuseppe Arcimboldo. “The Cook” (rotated)

Giuseppe Arcimboldo. “L’Ortolano”, or the “Vegetable Gardener” (1590). Cremona. A visual pun; you need to turn
the picture upside down to see the gardener

Giuseppe Arcimboldo. “L’Ortolano”, or the “Vegetable Gardener” (1590). Cremona. A visual pun; you need to turn
the picture upside down to see the gardener (rotated)

Salvador Dali considered Giuseppe Arcimboldo to be the forerunner of surrealism. I should dare to claim that it was Michelangelo who appeared to be the real precursor of surrealism. He forestalled Arcimboldo in using double-vision and reversible images; however, unlike Arcimboldo, he planted a deep philosophical meaning into dubiousness of his masterpieces.

Having read the lines above, the reader may immediately ask: “What about other works of Michelangelo, do they have encoded information too?” Right, it would be illogical to presume that only in the Sistine Chapel the master placed secret symbols. Analyzing the great Florentine’s creations, you become aware that almost every work of him has a secret. Actually, art historians have already learnt much about this. Let us consider “Pieta” sculpture.

Michelangelo. “Pieta” (1499)

The Mother of God has the body of 33-year-old Christ on her lap. But let us give a look to Madonna’s face – we can see that the mother is younger than her son! When asked “How can it be?” Michelangelo replied “Virginity grants freshness and eternal youth”. Madonna’s youth affirms the victory over time and death.

The sculpture of David is ideally proportional; however, the viewer’s attention cannot miss David’s right hand gripping a stone with which David will strike down Goliath in a moment. Michelangelo made this hand oversized as compared to the other parts of the body. This is a symbolic hint that David’s victory is predetermined. And again, Michelangelo plays with age. The Bible tells that at the time of his fight with Goliath, David was actually a boy. He was so small that had to fight without clothes: King Saul’s armor was too big for him. The predecessors of Michelangelo used to present David accordingly. Let us look, for instance, at the sculpture created by Donatello: his hero is a youngster of a feeble built; David’s hat, long hair and childish figure make David look almost like a girl. Michelangelo created another David – this is a mature man, much older than the biblical David, with mighty muscular system, looking more like Hercules or Apollo. And this makes sense: the giant of Michelangelo (4.45 meters heigh) is the symbol of invincibility of Florentine republic.

Donatello. “David”

Another secret is about the sculpture of Duke Giuliano de Medici (ca. 1533) in Medici Chapel in Florence. Giuliano’s rule was short; he became notorious for taking part in murderous restoration of Medici’s power in Florence. The sculpture face bears no resemblance to real Duke. In that manner the master expressed his indifference to the real image of that person as a figure of history. When told about the lack of likeness, Michelangelo said “There is no likeness now, but in about a hundred years everybody will fancy him exactly like this”.

Michelangelo. The Sculpture of Duke Giulianode Medici (1533), Medici Chapel in Florence

We have already considered the symbols of “The Last Judgment” fresco: here are Biagio de Cesena presented as naked Minos losing his manhood in front of the viewer’s eyes and Aretino – a scoundrel that has just skinned the artist’s own body.
Finally, let us consider the first sculpture work by Michelangelo – the relief “Madonna of the Stairs”. In the foreground, the Holy Mother is sitting with baby Jesus in her hands. Behind her, there is a staircase on which boy John (John the Baptizer in the future) is standing, with his elbow resting on the banisters. In this composition, the banisters’ bar that resembles the base of the cross on which Jesus will be crucified is pressed against Maria’s palm. John’s right arm is positioned at the right angle to the banisters, which enhances the similarity of the whole structure to the cross. The symbolic meaning is that Maria has fully taken upon herself the weight of the cross that will be the tool to kill her only son, and she is aware of the future act. Michelangelo made this composition in 1490; the beginning sculptor was only fifteen!

Michelangelo. “Madonna of the Stairs” (1490-1492).
Casa Buonarroti. Florence

Eighty-nine-year-old Michelangelo’s last words were “I regret so much that I have to die when I’ve just started reading the syllables of my profession.”

All we can add to this is, “It is so regrettable that, after five hundred years, we are still learning to read the syllables of what the great Master has presented to us.”

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