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What Michelangelo’s hands (can and can’t) tell us about arthritis

July 13, 2016

About the Author

photo of Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School. … See Full Bio
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July 15, 2016

Interesting but …unsatisfactory.
who did the research/examination? Are they art historians, as well? Which painting/s did they look at?
The painting shown seems to be by a print by the portrait by Jacopino del Conte , a mannerist and it shows. The painting is a piece of “bravura” where the usual 16th century portrait, dark robe, dark background, an aura of solemnity, is counterbalanced by the hands (hand in this case) both as a lighter colored spot but also the relieve the attention from a way too concentrated face portrait. It is also well known that in every shop there were specialist ( like hand, hair. landscape…specialized pupils/apprentices) while the master did the main parts: the portrait.
I can well imagine the apprentice, who happened to be good at doing “hands” , being charged with depicting Michelangelo’s hands! Wow! That’s like today’s young code writer being invited to write a bit of code for Zuckerber’s Facebook! I mean., it’s overwelming. He wants at least be up to the power and concentration of his master’s depiction of old Mike. Can he just show a wimpy hand, fat and redolent? A wanker’s hand? ( excuse me!) No way!. It must be as concentrated and pain-consumed a hand as possible! A hand that can produce masterpieces!
And, as an aside, if you look at the proportions, there’s no way that a human arm will show the hand at such a distance and angle from the shoulder of the depicted.
It’s a separate hand.
It could be a totally different painting.
It is the idea of a hand.
An exercise in hand painting inspired by Jacopino’s portrait but one that could actually be a separate painting. The painting of a hand, the category of a hand, a powerful, knotty, hand. The hand of the greatest, most revered artist of the time. I mean, if they had asked me I would make sure I was painting the most powerful, art producing hand I could imagine. The mother of all hands, one that could give life to masterpieces…
One more hint that the hand painted by Jacopino’s apprentice ( it certainly was not him!) is an exercise, an attempt at matching the maestro’s portrait.

Now, how can one infer a disease from thispainting, is beyond me.
I do happen to own a painting with a Madonna showing esadctylia : do I infer that she was affected by this genetic variation? Obviously not. That would be stupid. Chances that the 16/17th century painter had actually seen Maria’s feet are equal to Jacopino’s apprentice having actually looked at Michelangelo’s hands….And having enough time to paint them!
But that’s what people seem to do nowadays: taking everything at face value and carrying on from that.
Sorry for taking your time frim much more needed patient’s time.

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