University and scientific research center programs are increasingly finding it useful to employ artists and illustrators to help them see things in a new way. Few works of art from the Renaissance have been studied and pored over as meticulously as Michelangelo's frescos in the Sistine Chapel. Yet, the Master may still have some surprises hidden for an illustrator-scientist.

Biomedical Illustrator Ian Suk (BSc, BMC) and Neurological Surgeon Rafael Tamargo (MD, FACS), both of Johns Hopkins proposed in a 2010 article in the journal Neurosurgery, that the panel above, Dividing Light from the Darkness by Michelangelo actually depicts the brain stem of God.

Using a series of comparisons of the unusual shadows and contours on God's neck to photos of actual brain stems, the evidence seems completely overwhelming that Michelangelo used his own limited anatomical studies to depict the brain stem. It's unlikely even the educated members of Michelangelo's audience would recognize it. I encourage you to look over the paper here, and enlarge the images in the slideshow: Suk and Tamargo are utterly convincing. Unlike R. Douglas Fields in this previous blog post from 2010 on Scientific American, I don't think there's room to believe this is a case of pareidolia.

I imagine the thrill of feeling Michelangelo communicating directly with the authors across the centuries was immense.


  1. Neurosurgery, Vol. 66:pp851-861,May 2010. Link.
  2. Press release
  3. Ian Suk - Johns Hopkins Department of Art as Applied to Medicine
  4. Rafael Tamargo, MD. - Johns Hopkins Medicine
  5. Michelangelo's Secret Message in the Sistine Chapel: a juxtaposition of God and the brain by R. Douglas Fields, Guest Blog, Scientific American

For the third year running, we are turning September into a month-long celebration of science artists by delivering new sciart to invade your eyeballs. The SciArt Blitz! Can’t get enough? Check out what was previously featured on this day:

2013: The Drawings Behind Charles R. Knight's Famous Paintings



2012: Coronal Mass Ejection from NASA