The tortured hands of Michelangelo struggled with chronic osteoarthritis

The cost of hammering, chiseling and painting pieces of priceless art was a high price to pay for Michelangelo, never giving up until his death in 1564. Italian scientists believe that the Renaissance artist’s deformed claw-like hands were the result of excessive hammering and chiseling and concluded that Michelangelo indeed suffered from chronic osteoarthritis. According to a letter in 1552 to his nephew;he wrote that writing gave him great discomfort.

Chronic osteoarthritis is the degeneration condition of joint cartilage and the underlying bone, most common from middle age onward. It causes pain and stiffness, especially in the hip, knee, and thumb joints.

Michelangelo in his atelier showing signs of crippling hands and a miniature statue of David (oil painting by Caccini Pompeo).

Michelangelo in his atelier showing signs of crippling hands and a miniature statue of David (oil painting by Caccini Pompeo).

Michelangelo’s life would forever change when he was introduced to Pope Julius II because it would be the beginning of Michelangelo’s lifetime ailment of the chronic condition of osteoarthritis. Pope Julius II “The Warrior Pope” was at that time planning his own tomb, which was to be designed and adorned with sculpture by Michelangelo and placed within St Peter's Basilica. “The Warrior Pope” would later make the decision to tear down the old basilica and build a new one. Michelangelo was asked to help and spent years designing and redesigning some of the greatest architectural and engineering minds of the old basilica. The sculptor/architect “had taken all the previous designs in hand and compressed their contours as if the building were a lump of clay”.

St. Peter's Basilica Dome rising behind Maderno's façade was redesigned by Michelangelo.

St. Peter's Basilica Dome rising behind Maderno's façade was redesigned by Michelangelo.

The Pope then changed his mind, insisting that the young sculptor should instead paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Despite complaining that he was 'no painter', Michelangelo spent four years covering the ceiling in frescoes, standing on 60ft high scaffolding with paint dripping into his eyes.

The Creation of Adam is a fresco painting by Michelangelo, which forms part of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, painted c. 1511–1512.

The Creation of Adam is a fresco painting by Michelangelo, which forms part of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, painted c. 1511–1512.

The Last Judgement on the wall behind the alter in the Sistine Chapel, painted c. 1535-1541.

The Last Judgement on the wall behind the alter in the Sistine Chapel, painted c. 1535-1541.

During the period of time preceding his paintings, Michelangelo was busy creating and carving statues.

David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501-1504, it’s a 5.17-metre marble statue of a standing male.

David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501-1504, it’s a 5.17-metre marble statue of a standing male.

The Pietà Sculpture in the Vatican Museum.

The Pietà Sculpture in the Vatican Museum.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in 1474 in the town of Caprese. Growing up, he was mentored by the great Renaissance masters, Ghirlanidaio and Lorenzo il Magnificao and spent most of his past time carving anything he could get his hands on. His first commission was from a french Cardinal and it was his first "Pietà" statue. In 1546, at the age of 52 years old Michelangelo was asked to take over as architect of St Peter’s Basilica, to create sculptures like “The Pieta” and to take over the walls of the Sistine Chapel.

He was worn out ,there are three paintings of Michelangelo between the ages of 60 and 65 that show the small joints of his left hand that were affected by non-inflammatory degenerative changes which can be interpreted as osteoarthritis. In earlier portraits of the artist his hands appear with no signs of deformity. Despite his condition, he continued to create one masterpiece after another and was seen hammering up to six days before his death in 1564, three weeks before his 89th birthday.

My visits to Rome were always short and quick, never having the chance to go and explore the museums. I’m going to make it a personal mission of mine to go next time to tour the Vatican museums,as I’m enthralled by the history of one truly remarkable man-Michelangelo.

So here's my question, has anyone had the pleasure of visiting the Vatican Museums?

#Michelangelo #art #arthistory #StatueofDavid #AdamandEve #Painting #frescopainting #SistineChapel #StPetersBasilica #TheLastJudgement #ThePietaStatue #Renaissance #OldMasters #Italy #Italianartist #visitingVatican #VaticanMuseum #visitingRome

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