Gabriel Shelton

Gabriel Shelton

Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

PhD title: The Macabre in Marble: Michelangelo’s Knowledge of Surface Anatomy in its Wider Intellectual Contexts, 1493-1559
Supervisors:Dr David Hemsoll (University of Birmingham), Dr Giorgio Tagliaferro (University of Warwick)
History of Art PhD/MA by Research (On-Campus or by Distance Learning)


  • MA History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, 2017-18: Distinction
  • BA History of Art, Oxford Brookes University, 2014-17: First Class Honours


Postgraduate Tutor at The University of St Andrews (January-May 2021)

Postgraduate Teaching Assistant at University of Birmingham, September 2021 - June 2022

Module: AH1003 Art in Europe and Beyond, 1600-1800 (Sub-honours)


  • HEFI Horizon Award for Postgraduate Teaching from University of Birmingham for completion of training sessions:
  • ILT001: Introduction to learning and teaching in Higher Education
  • ILT003: Small group teaching 
  • ILT004: Introduction to Assessment and Feedback
  • ILT007: Giving a lecture 
  • ILT009: Cultural differences in the classroom


My thesis explores Michelangelo Buonarroti’s (1475-1564) knowledge of human anatomy, considering its artistic, philosophical and theological contexts. Throughout the sixteenth century and beyond Michelangelo’s achievements as an artist-anatomist were well documented and celebrated. There is also an abundance of literary source material, contemporary to the artist, that is illuminative of the period’s anatomical knowledge as it pertained to art. The difficulty presented to scholars is corroborating this evidence with the visual corpus of Michelangelo’s works, given that the primary source material relating directly to the artist’s theories is scant. Moreover, as the specialism of ‘Anatomy’ developed throughout the centuries and grew into its own scientific discipline, it became distanced from the superordinate subject of ‘Natural Philosophy’ to which it once belonged. This has engendered a growing misconception, amongst contemporary scholars, of its meaning to sixteenth-century artists.

The body – as it was understood by Michelangelo – was to be studied not only as an empirical exploit but also to better comprehend the human form as the creation of God, the harbourer of the soul and the prime model for artistic achievement. These aspects were inseparable from one another but, with regard to this artist, they have not been approached as such. The timeframe that my thesis covers ranges from the first known instance of Michelangelo practicing dissection in 1493 to the publication of Realdo Colombo's De Re Anatomica in 1559 – a project which the artist had a mooted involvement in. Through this monographic study, I hope to open broader questions of how the body was perceived throughout the Renaissance, by intellects from every discipline.

Other activities


  • (Forthcoming) 'Augustinian Asceticism in the Reformist Theology of Michelangelo' at Renaissance Society of America Conference, San Juan, PR - 9th March 2023
  •  ‘An Anatomical Drawing by Michelangelo’ at Late Night Exchange: Anatomical Drawing with Alice Roberts, Birmingham - 27th June 2022
  • ‘"Vostro Michelangelo in Turchia": The Theological Context of an Early Sonnet by Michelangelo’ at Midlands4Cities Research Festival, Online – 15th June 2022
  • ‘How much knowledge did Michelangelo have of Polykleitos’s 'Doryphoros'?’ – at University of Birmingham Lightning Talks, Online – 25th April 2022
  • “Michelangelo’s Risen Christ and early Reformist ideas in Rome, 1512-1520”, Early Modern Rome 4 conference, Rome – 12th November 2021
  • ‘Antiquity in the Early Sculpture of Michelangelo’ at Barber Institute, University of Birmingham – 28th February 2018


  • AHRC-funded Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership 2020-23
  • The Sophie Trevelyan Thomas Scholarship at the Courtauld Institute of Art, 2017-18
  • School of History, Philosophy and Culture Prize for History of Art at Oxford Brookes University.