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J R Soc Med. 2004 June; 97(6): 311.
PMCID: PMC1079515

Thyroid swellings in Renaissance art

The paper by the Bondesons (December 2003 JRSM1) prompts me to comment that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is not the only painting of the Renaissance in which a medically identifiable neck swelling is shown. Piero della Francesca in his Resurrection shows the central soldier asleep at the tomb with his head thrown back. He quite clearly has a smoothly defined midline swelling in his neck. It is too high and too central to be a lesion of the glandular thyroid (Figure 1a). In a detail from the Polyptych of the Misericordia the same model is used, and the same swelling is clearly seen (Figure 1b). There is a tradition that Piero used himself as a model and that these figures are of him. He probably lived from 1420 to 1492, a very good lifespan for the period. If he was the subject, the lesion was not malignant or life-limiting. The most likely diagnosis is a thyroglossal duct cyst.

Figure 1
Details from (a) The Resurrection, (b) the Polyptych of the Misericordia, by Piero della Francesca [Museo Civico, Firenze, Italy]


1. Bondeson L, Bondeson A-G. Michelangelo's divine goitre. J R Soc Med 2003;96: 609-11 [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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