Michelangelo: a genius who suffered from osteoarthritis in his hands

Prolonged hammering and chiselling accelerated degenerative osteoarthritis in the hands of Michelangelo Buonarroti, sculptor, painter and one of the greatest artists of all times. But the intense work probably helped him keep the use of his hands right up until he died. That is the conclusion of Italian doctors writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine who analysed three portraits of the artist to reach their diagnosis.

Rome, February 2016

Dr. Davide Lazzeri, specialist in plastic surgery at the Villa Salaria Clinic, Rome:

During one exhibition in Florence we found one portrait of Michelangelo with hand deformity. So we made a thorough search and we found two more. Suddenly we understood that there was some kind of possibility that he suffered of some disease of the hand.

I started to understand that most probably it was degenerative OA because he was a sculptor before being a painter. And maybe chiseling and hammering al the day, the action of chiseling and hammering, destroyed the cartilage and the bones of his hands, specially the left hand.

You can see at the base of the thumb, and on the second finger and at the wrist that there is some kind of swelling and that is very interesting because it is a typical deformed hand.

Sculpting and hammering is the cause of the disease of Michelangelo but at the same time, this kind of hand OA has got one main therapy that is physical therapy. The fact that he went on working with his hands was the cause of his disease but also the safety of his disease.

The research has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. To be sure we would need obviously some x-ray scan of his hands and pathologic examination. Maybe after this study the authorities will give us the permission to exhume Michelangelo’s cadaver.

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