The Living Anatomical Model

David by Michelangelo Florence Galleria dell'Accademia

David by Michelangelo, Florence Galleria dell’Accademia.

Visitors to Florence, Italy, may find that the list of places to visit is endless. However, if you want to see the link between anatomy and art, the Academy Gallery is the right place for you. At this gallery of art, you can admire the perfection of David, one of the most famous sculptures created by Michelangelo. The 500-year-old marble work clearly shows that its sculptor knew no difference between anatomy and art. It is inconceivable to think that a perfect anatomical sculpture was created out of a piece of rock. By using a hammer and a chisel, Michelangelo was able to carve a block of marble to produce a supreme masterpiece, without missing any anatomical details.

Everything on this statue looks harmonious. Michelangelo portrays a youth with a slim muscular build, with his head turned towards his left, carrying a sling at his back, holding a stone with his right hand, and standing with the right leg supporting his body weight. For the art aficionado and the anatomist, the details of this work are absolutely exquisite.


Most of the features of this statue create the impression of standing in front of a living model. Passing obliquely across the right side of the neck, a prominent sternocleidomastoid, separating the anterior triangle from the posterior triangle, is crossed by the external jugular vein, which runs down the neck towards the posterior triangle, where even the corrugations of platysma can be appreciated. If you don’t remember the function of the sternocleidomastoid, this statue clearly shows the stretched tendon of the right sternocleidomastoid and gives the impression of a strong muscular contraction that pulls the mastoid process making David’s head rotate to the left. In other words, you can easily visualise here the contralateral rotation of the head produced by the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Also, towards the mid-line of the neck, the accentuated thyroid and cricoid cartilages make you think of air moving up and down the airway with each respiratory movement.


It is also interesting to note the anatomical details that stand out on the flexed and semi pronated right hand. The superficial, dorsal metacarpal veins cross over the four tendons of the extensor digitorium muscle. You can also recognise the tendon of the extensor pollicis longus on the radial side of the wrist, while the shaft of the ulna, crossed superficially by the basilic vein, is clearly seen along the dorsal aspect of the right forearm.

Accurate anatomical details can be appreciated from any angle. The left side of the statue exhibits the bony landmarks of the elbow, including the olecranon of the ulna and the lateral epicondyle of the humerus. Also, muscular prominences of the left upper limb, such as deltoid, vastus lateralis of triceps and brachioradialis, among other muscles, can be recognised. The fleshy digitations of serratus anterior, interlocking with the external oblique of the abdomen, are clearly seen on the left side of the ribcage. Below the level of the left iliac crest, the greater trochanter of the femur bulges between the gluteus maximus and an accentuated tensor of the fascia lata, while the vastus lateralis of quadriceps femoris covers the femoral shaft to reach the patella. Posterior to the vastus lateralis, the tendon of biceps femoris demarcates the lateral boundary of the popliteal fossa.

As stated earlier, Michelangelo’s David is a living model indeed. Apart from the details described above, you will be able to see many other anatomical details if you visit it. It cannot be denied that this sculpture is not only a masterpiece of art, but it is also a masterpiece of surface anatomy. I wonder whether you will be able to feel the arterial pulses if you touch it.


  1. Isn’t it the extensor pollicis longus rather than the extensor hallucis longus when you’re discussing the flexed and semi-pronated hand, Dr. Carlo?

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