For centuries it has been thought that Michelangelo suffered from gout in later life, which was at the time used as a catch-all phrase to include all forms of arthritis. Researchers are reporting in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine that the famous artist instead had osteoarthritis. It's the most common form of arthritis, one the Mayo Clinic reports is characterized by the wearing of cartilage at the ends of bones—and free of the nodules of uric acid crystals that lie beneath the skin of those with gout. Indeed his condition, which left him unable to write by the time he died a few weeks shy of his 89th birthday in 1564, may have been worsened by all the hammering and chiseling, reports Discovery News. The team relied largely on three portraits of Michelangelo, "particularly concentrating on the hands of the Master," to arrive at their conclusion, they write.
Michelangelo was painted at various points from his 60s and onward with an almost disfigured left hand "twisted into bony protrusions," as the Montreal Gazette reports, yet he was also seen hammering away just six days before his death. The continuous use of his hands as a sculptor may have helped him work for as long as he did—a "triumph over infirmity as he persisted in his work until his last days," says surgeon and study coauthor Davide Lazzeri. Still, not everyone's convinced by the "charming" diagnosis: "Focusing on one anatomical district doesn't disentangle the conundrum of Michelangelo's bodily ailments, an enigma not inferior to that of his immortal genius," one evolutionary medicine researcher in Zurich tells Discovery News. Without the use of X-ray and spectroscopy, the enigma will likely persist. (Do these belong to Michelangelo?)