The Renaissance, Europe’s scientific jump forward from its medieval past, began in Florence, Italy and made the region a global cultural hub in the 14th and 15th centuries. Renaissance achievements ranged from finance and science to anatomy and art. And some of these new ideas also called into question or directly challenged the authority of the Catholic Church. Men like Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo Da Vinci and Donatello made amazing and revolutionary works of art and were giants in their time. Ironically, Michelangelo’s height, based on the latest “footwear research,” indicates that despite the incredible size and important of his collected works he was actually a small man!
How small? Well according to the latest study in the September issue of Anthropologie journal , Michelangelo’s height was 5 feet 2 inches (157 centimeters). This assessment was based on three pieces of footwear that were allegedly worn by the artistic genius himself.
The research materials that determined his height in the study were a pair of leather shoes, and a single leather slipper. These three footwear items have long been on display at the Casa Buonarroti Museum in Florence, Italy. The other slipper went missing in an alleged theft in 1873.
A circa 1540 portrait of Michelangelo by Italian painter Jacopino del Conte (1513–1598). Not surprisingly, the portrait doesn’t focus on Michelangelo’s height but on his face and hand instead. (Jacopino del Conte / Public domain )
Michelangelo’s Shoes Show He Was Short
To determine Michelangelo’s height his three pieces of footwear were put under a scanner and examined by researchers from Sicily’s Forensic Anthropology, Paleopathology, and Bioarcheology Research Center (FAPAB). The lead researchers included the article’s authors, forensic anthropologist Elena Varotto, and paleopathologist Francesco Galassi. All of these “Italian” scientists believed that Michelangelo’s height was pretty normal, reports Live Science , but 15th and 16th century men were generally shorter than 20th century males across Europe.
Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), the Italian painter, writer, and historian, was a contemporary of Michelangelo and described him in The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects , 1550. Vasari describes Michelangelo as being of “middle height, wide across the shoulders, but the rest of his body in good proportion.” He was a “very healthy man, thin and muscular,” he wrote.
The study on Michelangelo’s height based on his shoes had obvious potential shortcomings. Were they his shoes for certain? When were they worn and how was his health when he was wearing them? ( lithiumphoto / Adobe Stock)
But How Scientific Is This Footwear Study?
What is particularly interesting about this research is its unique attempt to accurately correlate footwear size to height and other physical characteristics. While both shoes were definitely worn by the same man, this entire premise comes with a disclaimer: these may not have been Michelangelo’s shoes! Perhaps, a relative or a descendant or another man in the household wore these slippers, wrote the scientists in their published work. This level of honesty is necessary as there is no DNA to prove who actually wore these shoes.
The other historical and evidential limitation of the recent research study is that Michelangelo was in very poor health, particularly towards the end of his life. He was believed to have suffered from lead and gout poisoning, along with severely crippling arthritis.
The basis of the study is further undermined by the fact that Michelangelo’s remains have never been exhumed or analyzed.
Michelangelo’s famous David sculpture is huge, leading one to wonder about the ladders Michelangelo must have used to scale his tall masterpiece in progress. (Livioandronico2013 / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
The Life and Works of Michelangelo Buonarroti
Michelangelo, who lived between 1475 and 1564, is often compared to his elder contemporary and sometimes rival, Leonardo da Vinci.
However, Michelangelo is often touted as either the greatest of his age, or the greatest artist ever. His prodigious output covers architecture, sculpture, poetry, and exceptional paintings. With the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in circa 1440, Michelangelo’s works have been carefully documented, preserved and reproduced more than any other artist from his age or any other.
As an architect, Michelangelo is responsible for the western end and the dome construction of the Vatican’s magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica . And Michelangelo’s stamp of genius on this basilica alone earned him the top prize in Renaissance architecture. It is the holiest of Catholic shrines even today.
Michelangelo is also the man behind the enduring fame of the Sistine Chapel (Vatican City). The Sistine Chapel ceiling frescos , and The Last Judgment fresco (behind the Sistine Chapel altar), are both by Michelangelo.
His sculptural masterwork, the Statue of David , is one of the famous classical nude sculptures in the world. And no wonder, the statue is an anatomically perfect man fashioned entirely by hand from an enormous rectangular chunk of marble.
The Renaissance, thanks to its wealthy and powerful patrons and the immense power of Gutenberg’s printing press, is the most widely documented era in European history.
The latest “footwear” research study concluded that Michelangelo’s height, at 5 feet 2 inches (157 cm), was certainly less than the immense impact of his mind and hands.
Top image: These three pieces of ancient footwear were used to scientifically estimate Michelangelo’s height in the recent study. Source: Casa Museo Buonarroti / Anthropologie
By Sahir Pandey