Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, better known by his first name alone, is one of the most influential figures in Western art history. Like many artists at the time, Michelangelo’s art went far beyond simple aesthetic ideals and instead combined aspects of many of the different branches of sciences, metaphysics, and philosophy which began emerging at the time. To add to his mystique, several recent studies have renewed interest in anatomical symbolism found throughout many of Michelangelo’s most iconic works including the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
One of Michelangelo’s greatest works of sculpture, the Sagrestia Nuova tombs in Florence’s Medici Chapel, are the subject of a new study by a team of Brazilian medical researchers, neuroscientists, and art historians who claim that Michelangelo hid Pagan symbols in them. According to the researchers’ publication in Clinical Anatomy, the animal skull reliefs seen on the tomb are thought to demonstrate anatomical knowledge far ahead of its time, as well as reflecting beliefs in forms of Pagan femininity:
Michelangelo would have inserted these skulls to extol the symbolism associated with female anatomy. Being placed within a Catholic temple, those symbols would have had to be camouflaged/concealed, because any exaltation of pagan feminine symbolism was strongly censored and condemned by the Church at that time.
Other symbols related to the idea of the sacred feminine are the shell and a design consisting of two spheres or circles joined by a cord or chain. Along with the bull/ram skull, these symbols can be seen throughout many of Michelangelo’s works. The shell is thought to represent the vagina and symbolize sexual pleasure, prosperity, and luck, while the two joined orbs represent the ovaries and fallopian tubes, symbolizing birth/rebirth or also the link between heaven and Earth.
According to the authors of this study, this aspect of the tombs might be new, but Michelangelo is well-known for hiding secret messages and symbols in his art:
Numerous experts have described how many of the most famous works of art of the Renaissance are replete with hidden ideas and secret codes. Moreover, metaphors, secret codes, symbols, and hidden allusions recur in all of Michelangelo’s works, especially in painting and architecture. The meanings of all the symbols presented here undoubtedly allude to the capacity for renewal/resurgence of life after death.
Life after death indeed. If Michelangelo did indeed hide these tidbits of Pagan symbolism and scientific knowledge inside his paintings and sculptures, he certainly wouldn’t be the only Renaissance artist to do so. Just last year, researchers believe they discovered the laws of friction embedded into one of Leonardo da Vinci’s doodles some two hundred years before their official discovery.