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Lifestyle Books and Art 04 Feb 2016 Artist Michelangelo ...

Artist Michelangelo worked despite arthritic hands

Published Feb 4, 2016, 8:33 pm IST
Updated Feb 4, 2016, 8:34 pm IST
Doctors analysed three portraits of Michelangelo between the ages of 60 and 65.
Michelangelo's famous marble statue of 'David' is pictured at the. (Photo: AFP)
 Michelangelo's famous marble statue of 'David' is pictured at the. (Photo: AFP)

London: Renowned Italian artist Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, likely suffered from arthritis in his later years, but addiction to work may have extended the use of his hands right up until he died, a new study suggests.

Prolonged hammering and chiselling accelerated degenerative arthritis in the hands of Michelangelo, sculptor, painter and one of the greatest artists of all time.


However, the intense work probably helped him keep the use of his hands until he died, researchers said.

Doctors analysed three portraits of Michelangelo between the ages of 60 and 65 which show that the small joints of his left hand were affected by non-inflammatory degenerative changes that can be interpreted as osteoarthritis.

In earlier portraits of the artist his hands appear with no signs of deformity.

"It is clear from the literature that Michelangelo was afflicted by an illness involving his joints. In the past this has been attributed to gout but our analysis shows this can be dismissed," said lead author Davide Lazzeri, a specialist in plastic reconstructive and aesthetic surgery at the Villa Salaria Clinic in Italy.


This is because there are no signs of inflammation in the artist's hands and no evidence of any tophi, the small lumps of uric acid crystals that can form under the skin of people with gout, Lazzeri said.

According to letters written by Michelangelo his hand symptoms appeared later in life and in 1552, in a letter to his nephew, he wrote that writing gave him great discomfort.

Despite this 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.


By then Michelangelo was unable to write anymore and only signed his letters.

"The diagnosis of osteoarthritis offers one plausible explanation for Michelangelo's loss of dexterity in old age and emphasises his triumph over infirmity as he persisted in his work until his last days," Lazzeri said.

"Indeed, the continuous and intense work could have helped Michelangelo to keep the use of his hands for as long as possible," he said.

The study was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.