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Friday, October 23, 2015

Fearful Asymmetry


The genius of Michelangelo was so great that new, unheard-of sides of his art can be discovered after half a millennium. Art historian and teacher Marco Bussagli has recently published a book (Milan: Edizioni Medusa, 2014, 176 pages with 66 photos and illustrations) in which he studies a puzzling detail: many characters painted or sculpted by Michelangelo have a mesiodens, a "tooth in-between," that is a supernumerary incisor between the two upper ones. A rare phenomenon, already known by Renaissance medicine. From an aesthetic/artistic point of view, such a feature simply destroys the symmetry and therefore the perfection of the human shape, with all philosophical consequences, especially in the Renaissance, and more especially in Michelangelo the "body-builder." An analysis of where he modified the dental arch of his models, though seemingly a very secondary subject, does lead to an overall reinterpretation of his art and biography as well as of his anthropological and religious views, shedding light -- and convincingly so -- on several controversial issues.