Hidden Brain Imaging in Renaissance Masterpieces?

Gerard’s Transfiguration of Christ
Gerrard David’s “Transfiguration of Christ” compared with a coronal section of the human brain.

An interesting article published by four UK scientists in the neurosciences speculates that the masters of the Renaissance hid brain imagery in their religious masterpieces. Some of the sneaky artists in question include Raphael, Michelangelo, and Gerard David.

During the Renaissance, scholars began to rely more on empirical evidence, especially in the anatomical sciences. The teachings of Galen, which were often based on studies of animals rather than humans, dominated for centuries. It wasn’t until Da Vinci and Vesalius came along that anatomy was jump-started once again. Artists were especially fascinated, but with most of their commissions coming from the religious clergy, how could they show off their deeper knowledge of the human body without being sacreligious? They had to hide it in their artwork.

FL Mershberger was the first to suggest hidden brain anatomy in Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.” He noted that the cloth and figures behind God resembled the shape of an anatomically correct brain.

Michelangelos Creation of Adam

Michelangelos Creation of Adam

Looks pretty darn close. Meshberger’s interpretation is that “God, in the process of creating Adam, gives him the gift of ‘intellect,’ symbolized by the brain.”

Here’s Raphael’s “Transfiguration of Christ.”

Raphael's Transfiguration of Christ

Raphael's Transfiguration of Christ with brain

So were these master artists of the Renaissance trying to hide images of anatomically correct brains in their religious work? Why would they do it? Were they trying to put science into religion without getting caught? Or is this just one big coincidence? Maybe the four scientists that wrote the article need to take a break from the neurosciences.

What do you think?

Original articles:

Brain illustrations by Patrick Lynch

Via Mindhacks



16 thoughts on “Hidden Brain Imaging in Renaissance Masterpieces?”

  1. if u think about it thats not really a brain its a human heart think about it its just a heart flipped around
    you have to excuse my spelling i’m only 14 and i might b little kid but i know what i am talking about and if u look closely at the background you can see the vain leading to the heart it is just a human hart turned backwards

  2. i just found this site but, there is also a skull hidden on the alter wall of the sistine chapel.

    or rather a skull like face.

  3. Hi!
    I’m doing a paper on Renaissance anatomy at the moment.
    If you have access to the original article, could you share it with me, please?
    It would be a really great help for me because my university hasn’t subscribed for this Journal.
    Thanx a lot in advance. =)

  4. This connection only seems valid because neuroscientists did it?
    At a glance this just looks like some far fetched speculation to promote neuroscience. Interesting nonetheless.

  5. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the “creation of Adam” based on the uterus???

  6. You could replace the brain with jellyfish and say all the renaissance masters were jellyfish worshipers.

  7. Yes that 3rd one has absolutely no correlation whatsoever, and do you really think the artist would have intended the brain to be perceived at THAT angle? The only one that seems convincing is the one with God touching Adam’s finger.

  8. just a history of medicine student

    Actually, there was no need to sneak science into religious art. The Catholic Church at the time was the biggest funder of research into nature in the world, and books like Vesalius’ work on anatomy, with plenty of images of human bodies and their parts drawn from the often public dissection of corpses, were OK’d by Church censors and published with no problem. So, if the artists were sneaking something in, bucking the censors wasn’t the motive.

  9. I just want to say that I was somewhat impressed by the first two images, but that the third was so obvious a stretch that it made me laugh out loud. You could have superimposed the outline of my poo and shown how accurate it was!

  10. Ben – thanks for the correction. I took the image caption from the journal article and just assumed that it was correct since it was written by neuroscientists…

  11. I agree with Steve, though it’s fun to speculate.
    And since I enjoy nitpicking, the top image pair caption should say “coronal” instead of midline sagittal.

  12. Steve Jarman, RN, BSN

    Fascinating idea. Though I would have to repeat the question Trackback asks. Why?

    I would tend to believe that this is more coincidental than deliberate. Given the elegant lines and symetry of the brain, it doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch to say that the artists were simply following good solid design principles. It jsut so happens that images of the brain have similar elements.

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