There is a detail in Michelangelo’s David which escaped 500 years of observation and which confirms the genius of the great Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet, capable of anticipating science with his ‘clinical eye’. If in many sculptures, and in people’s daily physiology, the jugular vein from the upper part of the bust through the neck is not visible, in fact, in the Renaissance masterpiece exhibited in Florence it is clearly “stretched” and raised above David’s collarbone. As would happen in any healthy young woman who is at an excitement level because she has to face a potentially lethal opponent – in this case, Goliath.
A detail that indicates how the spirit of observation led Michelangelo to sculpt something that would later be described in detail 100 years later, that is, the mechanics of the circulatory system. The artist, with his curiosity, would have been one of the first to observe how this vein worked. This was revealed by an article by Daniel Gelfman, of the Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis, published on Jama Cardiology. The American doctor who saw the statue this year during a visit to Italy was the first to notice this detail. The distension of the jugular vein according to what the expert explains can also occur with problems such as “high intracardiac pressures and possible cardiac dysfunctions”, but the David is young and in excellent physical condition. Only in another context – a state of temporary excitement – does it stand out well. “Michelangelo, like some of his contemporaries – writes Gelfman – had an anatomical training. I realized that he must have noticed a temporary jugular venous distension in healthy subjects who are excited”.
“At the time of the creation of the David – he notes – in 1504, the anatomist and doctor William Harvey had not yet described the true mechanics of the circulatory system. This did not happen until 1628”. Also in Moses there is the same anatomical detail, while the jugular vein of Jesus in the Pietà is not distended or visible (also in this case anatomically correct in context). For cardiologists, one of the important messages that come from this article is that doctors too must have a spirit of observation when visiting their patients. In today’s era of high-tech scans and blood tests, explains Marcin Kowalski, of Staten Island University Hospital, “it always amazes me when medical students are able to diagnose diseases by simple observation. I hope the the art of physical examination does not disappear from the repertoire of our young doctors “.