Michelangelo’s “2D Face” Decoded

The Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel (Part I)

PART I: Michelangelo’s “2D Face” Decoded (click here to view the video), The Last Supper, Sistine Chapel

In high school, part of an Art History course that I took focused on Art in the Renaissance. One of the artists that we were asked to study was Michelangelo. I remember going to the Library, signing out a book that contained large photographs of the Sistine Chapel, and being in awe of Renaissance Art.

The Renaissance (re-birth”) movement spanned roughly from the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. This period in history brought about the “rebirth” of ancient traditions in thinking with emerging new scientific knowledge.

There was one photo in particular, “The Last Judgement”, that caught my eye. I remember getting “goosebumps” because I immediately saw a ghostly pattern of a “Skull” emerging from the photo. It was the way the two top “Angel” segments were positioned … they looked like eyes. The area where the central “Jesus figure” holds his arms up looked like the nose of a skull.

The next day, excited about this discovery, I approached the Art Teacher and asked her if there was anything ever written about this. She indicated “No” and went on her way. I remember feeling embarrassed. I remember thinking that perhaps I was reading too much into the painting.

I Google “Last Judgement” and find a myriad of photos. After all these years, I could still see the “Skull”. Wouldn’t it be reasonable that a sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer like Michelangelo — known for his work on human anatomy — would encode an image of a Skull in a painting about the Last Judgement?

DUH!!! Am I really reading too much into this?

I Google “Last Judgement, Skull” and come across a blog post entitled “Michelangelo’s Skull”. It is dated October 7th, 2012, written by someone named Simon Abrahams, an “independent art historian”. You mean, after all these years, there isn’t anything else written by the established Art Academic community about this?

Well, I’m glad Simon says that he also sees the “Skull”.

I had written about this on Evan William’s Medium (yes, “THE” Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter), in which I was invited to contribute as a writer at http://medium.com/@danceScape.

In Googling, I discovered Will Smith (not the actor; it’s Professor William A.P. Smith, an expert in Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition), and emailed him and explained my quest to find software that could extrapolate from the image of a skull that might be embedded in the painting. I asked if he was aware of a way for the some software to extrapolate what a FACE could look like from the skull. He was kind enough to offer some suggestions.

On Saturday, September 28th, I was inspired to take some tracing paper and draw what my eyes were “decoding” from the image.

The resulting unexpected video transformation of “Michelangelo’s “2D Face” Decoded” surprised not only my wife — Beverley Cayton-Tang, who snapped photos on our iPad mini — but also myself.

There has been nothing in the literature that I could find where this has been attempted before. Thanks to Professor William Smith for all his assistance, as well as Art Historian Simon Abrahams.

However, this is only Part I. Click here to read Part II, “Michelangelo’s ‘3D Face’ Decoded”.

Robert Tang

Music Credit goes to my favourite music Artist, David Liang (The Shanghai Restoration Project), “Call Me Home”.