Michelangelo Is a Giant of Art History. But as a Person, He May Have Actually Been Quite Short
As an artist, Michelangelo was a towering figure. As a human though, he may have actually been pretty short.
For a new study published in the September 2021 issue of the Czech Republic-based journal Anthropologie, researchers at the Forensic Anthropology, Paleopathology, and Bioarchaeology Research Center in Italy examined three pieces of footwear believed to have belonged to the renaissance man: a pair of leather shoes and a single leather slipper, all in the collection of the Casa Buonarroti Museum in Florence. (The second slipper was stolen from the museum in 1873, according to Live Science.)
Measuring the objects, the researchers were able to extrapolate an estimate of the artist’s height, and it’s rather humble: 5 feet 2 inches tall.
Today that means Michelangelo could ride most roller coasters, but he’d have trouble reaching the cookies on the top shelf. And he certainly isn’t winning any dunk contests.
It’s worth pointing out, of course, that by the standards of his day—the 15th and 16th centuries—Michelangelo’s height would not have been out of the norm. And, according to the article’s authors, forensic anthropologist Elena Varotto and paleopathologist Francesco Galassi, the measurement squares, roughly, with Giorgio Vasari’s own account of the artist in his indispensable series of Renaissance-era biographies 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,” Vasari wrote.
Varotto and Galassi’s speculation is just that, though. Michelangelo’s remains, located at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, have never been exhumed and studied. There’s also the possibility that the three shoes belonged to a relative of Michelangelo’s rather than to the artist himself.
Nevertheless, it’s satisfying to think that, for many of us, no matter what we’ve accomplished in life, we can say that we are taller than Michelangelo.
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