The great Italian sculptor and painter Michelangelo wrote relatives he was having trouble with his hands. Was it gout? Not so, a team of disease detectives write.
The great artist Michelangelo likely had osteoarthritis in his hands, an investigation by a Rome, Italy plastic surgeon and colleagues concludes.
Swollen joints and loss of fine motor skills did not slow the master down, however.
The legendary artist continued to sculpt and paint masterpieces late in his life despite his apparent ailments, according to a essay written by Italian and Australian experts.
"The diagnosis of osteoarthritis offers one plausible explanation for Michelangelo’s loss of dexterity in old age and emphasizes his triumph over infirmity as he persisted in his work until his last days," wrote the lead author, Davide Lazzeri, MD, a plastic reconstructive and aesthetic surgeon at the Villa Salaria Clinic in Rome.. Indeed, the continuous and intense work could have helped Michelangelo to keep the use of his hands as long as possible," He added, " Indeed, the continuous and intense work could have helped Michelangelo to keep the use of his hands as long as possible."
Lazzeri and his colleagues noted that over the years previous experts have speculated that Michelangelo’s complaints in letters to his nephew about pain in his hands resulted from gout. In this essay, the writers counter that their analysis of three portraits of the artist as an older man the gout hypothesis "can be dismissed..."
There are no signs of the type of inflammation and swelling of fibrous tissues around joints in his hands that are characteristic of gout, they explained. "More likely, his suffering may be due to a degenerative modification of the small joints of his hands which may be interpreted today as osteoarthritis."
To reach their conclusions Lazzeri, the rendition of Michelangelo’s left hand in two contemporary portraits and one painted after his death. Michaelangelo was believed to be left-handed.
The first portrait was painted in 1535 when Michelangelo was 60 by Jacopino del Conte and shows his left-hand hanging downward. That hand shows "signs of a non-inflammatory articular disease (such as osteoarthritis)," the essay authors wrote.
The second portrait by Daniele Ricciarelli (also known as Daniele da Volterra) was painted in 1544. Pompeo Caccini painted the third and posthumous portrait in 1595.
All three paintings show Michelangelo’s [left] hand to be affected by degenerative arthritis, in particular at the trapezius/metacarpal joint level, as well as at the metacarpo/phalangeal joint level, the interphalangeal joint of the thumb, the metacarpo/phalangeal joint and the proximal interphalangeal joint of the index finger," the authors write. They added that these changes "were probably accelerated by prolonged hammering and chiseling."
Lazzeri and his team acknowledge that an unproven uric acid metabolic dysfunction may have contributed to the problems in Michelangelo’s hands but that "The swellings at the base of the thumb and the swellings of the smaller joints of the thumb and index are not gouty in origin; they may be interpreted as osteoarthritic nodules."
The essay appeared February 3 online in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.