Portrait of Michelangelo Buonarroti (c.1595), by Pompeo di Giulio Caccini, oil on wood [from the Casa Buonarroti Museum, Florence, Italy; 2015. Foto Scala,
Portrait of Michelangelo painted by Pompeo di Giulio Caccini. He shows signs of the joint disease osteoarthritis in his left hand. Photo: Scala , Florence / Casa Buonarroti museum .
Michelangelo suffered from the joint disease osteoarthritis during the time the artist created many of his most important works. This, according to researchers who have analyzed portraits of the aging artist.

All those hours of hard work when a young Michelangelo (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni) hammered and chiseled out some of the world’s most famous sculptures probably worsened his osteoarthritis later in life. This is what a team of Italian researchers believe.

The researchers have analyzed portraits of Michelangelo and in three of the paintings, the artist was between 60 and 65 years, it is clear that his left-hand shows signs of the rheumatic joint disease osteoarthritis, according to the researchers.

It has actually been long known that Michelangelo suffered from some type of joint disease, but this is the first time any research have managed to establish exactly what probably hampered his work during his last years.

Osteoarthritis is a disease during which the joint cartilage breaks down. The symptoms often worsen to a degree when certain tasks need to be avoided due to pain.

But Michelangelo did not give up his oeuvre. According to the researchers, this fact may just have been the reason to why he managed to keep the disease in check with flexible enough hands to allow for continued work. Since continued movement can reduce symptoms caused by osteoarthritis.

One of the masterpieces that Michelangelo undertook despite his illness was St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He was 72 years old when he took over as the chief architect of this mammoth project. The church was completed only after Michelangelo’s death but is often considered by one of the greatest works of art during the Renaissance.

Michelangelo worked until his last breath. Some reports indicate that he died only six days after he retired from artistry in 1564. He was then 88 years old.

Lazzeri D, Castello M, Matucci-Cerinic M, Lippi D, Weisz G. Osteoarthritis in the hands of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2016.