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Interesting to see two separate stories late this week suggesting that Renaissance masters hid secret ‘messages’ in their art. The Times mentions that a new analysis of Botticelli’s Venus and Mars has raised the possibility that one element of the image may reference a known hallucinogen:

A fruit held by a satyr in the bottom right of the painting has been identified as belonging to Datura stramonium, a plant with a history of sending people mad and making them want to strip off their clothes. Its hallucinogenic effects were recorded in Ancient Greek texts and it has since been used as an aphrodisiac and a poison.

The fruit was overlooked by art historians until David Bellingham, a programme director at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, showed it to experts at Kew Gardens, where they have a specimen of the plant, which is also known as thorn apple and Devil’s trumpet.

Use of Datura for shamanic/magical purposes is a fascinating topic in itself, and I highly recommend Paul Devereux’s book The Long Trip (Amazon US and UK) to explore the ‘history of psychedelia’ in more depth (I liked it so much, I republished the book).

Meanwhile, Scientific American shares the (possible) revelation that Michelangelo hid anatomical references in his paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel:

Art critics and historians have long puzzled over the odd anatomical irregularities in Michelangelo’s depiction of God’s neck… How does one reconcile such clumsiness by the world’s master of human anatomy and skilled portrayer of light with bungling the image of God above the altar? Suk and Tamargo propose that the hideous goiter-disfigured neck of God is not a mistake, but rather a hidden message. They argue that nowhere else in any of the other figures did Michelangelo foul up his anatomically correct rendering of the human neck. They show that if one superimposes a detail of God’s odd lumpy neck in the Separation of Light and Darkness on a photograph of the human brain as seen from below, the lines of God’s neck trace precisely the features of the human brain

Interesting enough, but when do we find a secret map showing the location of the Holy Grail!?