The Creation of Adam

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The Creation of Adam
Italian: Creazione di Adamo
Creación de Adán (Miguel Ángel).jpg
Artist Michelangelo
Year c. 1512
Type fresco
Dimensions 280 cm × 570 cm (9 ft 2 in × 18 ft 8 in)[1][2]

The Creation of Adam is a fresco painting by Michelangelo, which forms part of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, painted circa 1511–1512. It illustrates the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God breathes life into Adam, the first man. The fresco is part of a complex iconographic scheme and is chronologically the fourth in the series of panels depicting episodes from Genesis. It is the most well-known of the Sistine Chapel fresco panels, and its fame as a piece of art is rivaled only by the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

The image of the near-touching hands of God and Adam has become iconic of humanity and has been reproduced in countless imitations and parodies. Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper and Michelangelo's Creation of Adam are the most replicated religious paintings of all time.


God is depicted as an elderly white-bearded man wrapped in a swirling cloak while Adam, on the lower left, is completely nude. God's right arm is outstretched to impart the spark of life from his own finger into that of Adam, whose left arm is extended in a pose mirroring God's, a reminder that man is created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26). Another point is that Adam's finger and God's finger are not touching. It gives the impression that God, the giver of life, is reaching out to Adam who has yet to receive it; they are not on "the same level" as would be two humans shaking hands, for instance.

Many hypotheses have been formulated regarding the identity and meaning of the figures around God. The person protected by God's left arm might be Eve due to the figure's feminine appearance and gaze towards Adam, but was also suggested to be Virgin Mary, Sophia, the personified human soul, or an angel of feminine build.[3]

The Creation of Adam is generally thought to depict the excerpt "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him" (Gen 1:27). The inspiration for Michelangelo's treatment of the subject may come from a medieval hymn called Veni Creator Spiritus, which asks the 'finger of the paternal right hand' (digitus paternae dexterae) to give the faithful speech.[4]

Clean-shaven man with short brown hair
Hand of God reaching out to Adam who receives it
The hands 
Bearded man with long white hair


Michelangelo's main source of inspiration for his Adam in his Creation of Adam seems to have been a cameo showing a nude Augustus Caesar riding sidesaddle on a Capricorn.[5] This cameo is now at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland.[6] The cameo used to belong to cardinal Domenico Grimani who lived in Rome while Michelangelo painted the ceiling. Evidence suggests that Michelangelo and Grimani were friends. Some scholars have been dissatisfied with the theory Michelangelo was mainly inspired by Lorenzo Ghiberti's Adam in his Creation of Adam. This cameo offers an alternative theory.[7]

Popular theories[edit]

Several hypotheses have been put forward about the meaning of The Creation of Adam's highly original composition, many of them taking Michelangelo's well-documented expertise in human anatomy as their starting point. In 1990, an Anderson, Indiana physician named Frank Meshberger, M.D. noted in the medical publication the Journal of the American Medical Association that the background figures and shapes portrayed behind the figure of God appeared to be an anatomically accurate picture of the human brain.[8] Dr. Meshberger's interpretation has been discussed by Dr. Mark Lee Appler.[9] On close examination, borders in the painting correlate with major sulci of the cerebrum in the inner and outer surface of the brain, the brain stem, the frontal lobe, the basilar artery, the pituitary gland and the optic chiasm.[8]

Alternatively, it has been observed that the red cloth around God has the shape of a human uterus (one art historian has called it a "uterine mantle"[10]), and that the scarf hanging out, coloured green, could be a newly cut umbilical cord.[11] According to Enrico Bruschini, (2004) "This is an interesting hypothesis that presents the Creation scene as an idealised representation of the physical birth of man. It explains the navel that appears on Adam, which is at first perplexing because he was created, not born of a woman."[12]

Popular culture[edit]

The Creation of Adam is one of the most well-known and famous artworks of all time, and as such has been the subject of a number of references and parodies.[13] Some of these parodies have become famous in their own right, in particular, John Alvin's poster for Steven Spielberg's film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.[13][14] Parodies have appeared on many well-known television programs including The Simpsons, The Muppets, Sesame Street, and Arrested Development. The album art for the Tenacious D album The Pick of Destiny directly parodies with band members Jack Black and Kyle Gass parodying Adam and God. [14]


  1. ^ Gardner, Helen; Kleiner, Fred S. (2009). Gardner's Art Through the Ages. A Concise Global History (2nd ed.). Stamford, Connecticut: Cengage Learning. p. 265. ISBN 04-955-0346-0; ISBN 978-04-9550-346-0. 
  2. ^ See also occurrences on Google Books.
  3. ^ Steinberg, Leo (December 1992). "Who's who in Michelangelo's Creation of Adam: A Chronology of the Picture's Reluctant Self-Revelation". The Art Bulletin 74 (4): 553–554. JSTOR 3045910. Retrieved April 9, 2013. 
  4. ^ Veni, Creator Spiritus / Come Holy Spirit, Creator Blest.
  5. ^ Cameo on Google Image.
  6. ^ Sutherland, Bruce (Winter 2013). "Cameo Appearances on the Sistine Ceiling". Source: Notes in the History of Art (Ars Brevis Foundation, Inc.) 32 (2): 14. JSTOR 23292907.  Alnwick Castle is in Northumberland, not Northampton, as the captions state. The Duke of Northumberland who owns the cameos discussed in the article has expressed his appreciation in a letter to the author.
  7. ^ Sutherland, Bruce (Winter 2013). pp. 12–18.
  8. ^ a b Meshberger, Frank Lynn (October 10, 1990). "An Interpretation of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam Based on Neuroanatomy". JAMA 264 (14): 1837–41. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450140059034. PMID 2205727. Retrieved September 24, 2012.  Pdf. Excerpt on Mental Health & Retrieved September 21, 2010.
  9. ^ Appler, Mark Lee (March 6, 1991). "The Creation of Adam: Divine Funster Decrees We Are What We Eat: Chicken?". Letters in comment: JAMA 265 (9): 1111. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460090059025. PMID 1995993. Retrieved September 24, 2012. 
  10. ^ Stokes, Adrian (1955). Michelangelo. A study in the nature of art. City University London: Tavistock Publications. p. 89. 
  11. ^ Bruschini, Enrico (2004). Masterpieces of the Vatican. Vatican City: Edizioni Musei Vaticani. ISBN 88-811-7088-4; ISBN 978-8-881-17088-3.  p. 112.
  12. ^ Bruschini, Enrico (2004). p. 112.
  13. ^ a b Katz, Jamie (10 April 2009). "The Measure of Genius". Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Teixeira, Nuno. "Pop Culture Art Inspired By Michelangelo's The Creation Of Adam". Retrieved 13 September 2013. 

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