Michelangelo’s “David” is often described as physical perfection. Giorgio Vasari, a 16th century artist and historian, noted that “no other artwork is equal to it in any respect.”
Since David is the epitome of perfection, the statue should depict a man in perfect health, right? That’s what an Indiana cardiologist originally thought prior to seeing the masterpiece in person on a trip to Florence, Italy, in 2018.
Dr. Daniel Gelfman, an associate professor at Marian University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, told IndyStar that he did not expect to see a bulging vein on the right side of the biblical hero’s neck.
Until then, Gelfman had only seen the statue through photos. When he finally saw it up close, he noticed the jugular vein. “That tells you that someone has heart disease,” he told IndyStar. “When I saw that, it was very dramatic to me. It really stuck out.”
Gelfman asked himself: Did Michelangelo put that there on purpose or did David have heart disease?
This led Gelfman to enroll in an online art history course to learn more about the Renaissance master. He learned that Michelangelo studied human anatomy and probably included this feature because the jugular vein pops out when people get excited or emotional. Michelangelo sculpted David’s anticipation through a bulging vein before he slung the stone to Goliath’s forehead, Gelfman told IndyStar, adding that if David was ill, he would have swelling in his legs or abdomen.
Writing about his observation late last year in JAMA Cardiology, Gelfman discussed his theory on why Michelangelo crafted David’s jugular vein popping out and the value of “studying artworks to improve doctor diagnostic skills,” according to IndyStar.
Using his observations as an example, Gelfman hopes Marian medical students can “use what they witness in diagnosis instead of depending too much on tests.”