Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists and architects of the Renaissance designed the entire plan for the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome while suffering from chronic osteoarthritis. Recent studies suggest that the disease left his fingers twisted into bony protrusions.
According to scientists, Michelangelo’s condition may have been the result of extensive hammering and chiseling that he experienced while creating his masterpieces, such as David.
According to Dr Davide Lazzeri considers osteoarthritis to be the cause for Michelangelo’s loss of dexterity in old age, but his determination kept his fingers flexible until days before his death.
Dr Lazzeri studied Michelangelo’s paintings in order to see the degeneration caused but arthritis. Although he suffered from arthritis, letters show that he didn’t gave up sculpting and kept doing it until six days before he died.
According to the doctor, osteoarthritis may be one of the explanations why Michelangelo lost his dexterity in old but says that his will to continue working may have helped him to keep the use of his hands for as much as he could.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was born in 1474 in the town of Caprese. He was the apprentice of Renaissance master Ghilandaio and studied on the court of Lorenzo il Magnifico.
He visited Rome and sculpted his first ‘Pieta’ for a French cardinal and afterwards he returned to Florence to work on his sculpture of David.
Although he didn’t wated at first, he was convinced by Pope Julius II to return to Rome to work on the pontiff’s tomb, which was set to be in the choir of the old St Peter’s
The Pope had a change of heart and commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel instead and although Michelangelo didn’t consider himself to be a painter, he spent four years painting the ceiling of the Chapel, which he finished in 1512.
After another trip to Florence, Michelangelo returned to Rome at the age of 60, convinced by Pope Paul III to paint the Last Judgment on the wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel.
The commission wore him out, but he refused to give up work and went on to paint the Conversion of Saint Paul and the Crucifixion of Saint Peter for the Vatican.
In 1546, Michelangelo was asked to finish the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which had been left unfinished for 50 years. The dome was completed after Michelangelo’s death, using his design and is considered to be ‘the greatest creation of the Renaissance’.
Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564 at the age of 89, refusing to give up his work.
There are three paintings of Michelangelo between the ages of 60 and 65 which show that the small joints of his left hand were affected by what can be considered to be osteoarthritis. The early pictures of the artist show his hand without any significant deformity.
According to Michelangelo’s letters the symptoms of the disease appeared later in life, in 1552 already suffering from them.
Despite the harsh pain he felt, he continued to create masterpieces of art, but by the time he died, he was unable to write anymore.