"Dying Slave," Michelangelo // Jörg Bittner Unna, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons
"Dying Slave," Michelangelo // Jörg Bittner Unna, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Michelangelo Likely Had Arthritis, Researchers Say

"Dying Slave," Michelangelo // Jörg Bittner Unna, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons
"Dying Slave," Michelangelo // Jörg Bittner Unna, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Michelangelo's years of sculpting resulted in many incredible works that are still treasured some 500 years later. They also really took a toll on his hands, according to a recently published paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Researchers analyzed portraits of Michelangelo, as well as writings from the artist about the pain he endured late in life. They concluded that while he may have suffered from a host of other illnesses and conditions (including gout and lead poisoning), it is likely that osteoarthritis is what affected the artist's hands.

In explaining their methodology, the authors of the study write that "there are no spectroscopic or X-ray images available, and for this reason, the careful observation of the portraits is the only method available today to interpret hand deformities." There were three oil paintings of the artist—between the ages of 60 and 65—used in the analysis: the first two were painted during his lifetime by Jacopino del Conte and Daniele da Volterra (circa 1535 and 1544, respectively), while the third by Pompeo Caccini was completed in 1595—36 years after Michelangelo's death.

Portrait by Jacopino del Conte // Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

From their study of Michelangelo's left (dominant) hand in each of the paintings, the team writes:

"The portraits show Michelangelo’s hand to be affected by degenerative arthritis, in particular at the trapezius/metacarpal joint level, as well as at the metacarpo/phalangeal joint level, the interphalangeal joint of the thumb, the metacarpo/phalangeal joint and the proximal interphalangeal joint of the index finger levels. These are clear non-inflammatory degenerative changes, which were probably accelerated by prolonged hammering and chiseling... Michelangelo’s difficulties with tasks such as writing may have resulted from stiffness of the thumb and the loss of the ability to abduct, flex and adduct it."

Letters indicate that Michelangelo's symptoms arrived late in life, and in 1552 correspondence with his nephew, he wrote that writing itself caused discomfort. By the time of his death, he could no longer write and only signed his letters.

But even then, Michelangelo continued making art—he was seen hammering up to six days before his death—and that might have actually helped him. Lead author Davide Lazzeri said in a statement: "The diagnosis of osteoarthritis offers one plausible explanation for Michelangelo's loss of dexterity in old age and emphasizes his triumph over infirmity as he persisted in his work until his last days. Indeed the continuous and intense work could have helped Michelangelo to keep the use of his hands for as long as possible."

[h/t Artnet]

Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
The Covers of Jack Kerouac's Classic Titles Are Getting a Makeover
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press

Readers have been enjoying classic Jack Kerouac books like The Dharma Bums and On the Road for decades, but starting this August the novels will have a new look. Several abstract covers have been unveiled as part of Penguin’s "Great Kerouac" series, according to design website It’s Nice That.

The vibrant covers, designed by Tom Etherington of Penguin Press, feature the works of abstract expressionist painter Franz Kline. The artwork is intended to capture “the experience of reading Kerouac” rather than illustrating a particular scene or character, Etherington told It’s Nice That. Indeed, abstract styles of artwork seem a fitting match for Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose”—a writing style that was influenced by improvisational jazz music.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of The Dharma Bums, which was published just one year after On the Road. The Great Kerouac series will be available for purchase on August 2.

[h/t It's Nice That]

John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.


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