Two doctors from Brazil believe they have uncovered a secret code in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling artwork: It's a lesson in human anatomy.
The brightly colored frescoes that Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were completed nearly 500 years ago and depict Biblical scenes. One of the most famous is the "Creation of Adam" where God reaches out to touch Adam's finger. Reuters reports that Brazilian doctors and amateur art historians Gilson Barreto and Marcelo de Oliveira believe Michelangelo portrayed his detailed knowledge of internal human anatomy across 34 of the ceiling's 38 panels.
How? What looks like a tree trunk on first glance is actually a bronchial tube. A green bag in one panel is really a human heart. God's purple robe looks like a lung when viewed from the side.
Barreto and de Oliveira say the secret to deciphering the anatomical representations is in the code--sometimes subtle, sometimes overt--that they believe Michelangelo left behind. "Why wasn't this ever seen before? First, because very few people have the sufficient anatomical knowledge to see these pieces like this. I do because that's my profession," Barreto, who is a surgeon by trade, tells Reuters.
It's not as farfetched as it might sound. Two American doctors have also noticed anatomical depictions, including Dr. Frank Meshberger who 15 years ago said a panel in the "Creation of Adam" contained a cross-section of the human brain. In addition, Dr. Garabed Eknoyan says he found the figure of a kidney in the panel entitled "Separation of the Earth From the Waters."
Barreto and de Oliveira published their theory in a book titled "The Secret Art of Michelangelo," which has only been available so far in Brazil. Most of the clues to the hidden body parts are in looks, light and pointing.
Critics say their ideas go too far, stretching the visual evidence. "We're not here to play around. We believe this is a great discovery for the arts," Barreto insisted to Reuters. "The only thing we want to do is spread this knowledge."