It’s one of the most famous drawings in the world, a nude man with a square and circle inscribed around him. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man was drawn to illustrate the perfect proportions of the human body. But the model himself may not have been in perfect health.
In an article on Slate, biologist Laura Crothers describes the 2011 work of Hutan Ashrafian, who posited that a strange bulge near the Vitruvian Man’s groin was a inguinal hernia, a relatively common condition in men.
But in the human lineage, which has been walking upright for a little longer than 4 million years, the weak layers of lower abdominal wall tissue must bear the brunt of our intestinal weight. When a bit of intestine bulges through a thin layer of lower abdominal tissue, a hernia is born.
Ashrafian has a history of writing medical analyses of historical figures or paintings. He’s suggested that Tutkenhamen inherited a form of temporal lobe epilepsy, written about the history of medical mathematics, and suggested that the model for Michelangelo’s John the Baptist (paywall link) in Madonna and Child with St. John and Angels had thalassemia, a type of blood disorder.