The Creation of Adam

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The Creation of Adam prior to the 1980 restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling

The Creation of Adam is a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo Buonarroti circa 1511. It illustrates the Biblical story from the Book of Genesis in which God the Father breathes life into Adam, the first man. Chronologically the fourth in the series of panels depicting episodes from Genesis on the Sistine ceiling, it was among the last to be completed. It is arguably one of the most famous and most appreciated images in the world.

Composition

God is depicted as an elderly bearded man wrapped in a swirling cloak that he shares with some cherubim. His left arm is wrapped around a female figure, normally interpreted as Eve, who is not yet created and, figuratively, waits in heaven to be given an earthly form. 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. Famously, Adam's finger and God's finger are separated by a slight distance.

The composition is obviously artistic and not literal, as Adam is capable of reaching out to God even before he has actually been given "life." For this same reason, Eve is visually depicted prior to her own creation. The inclusion of Eve has led some people to believe the female figure must be Adam's mythical first wife, Lilith, although Lilith was also created after Adam.

The similar poses of God and Adam – the positions of God's right leg and Adam's left are, for instance, nearly identical – reflect the fact that, according to Genesis 1:27, God created man in His own image. At the same time God, who is airborne and appears against ovoid drapery, is contrasted with earthbound Adam, lying on a stable triangle of barren ground (Adam's name comes from a Hebrew word meaning "earth").

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, love and strength. [1]

Adam's index finger, the most famous in Western art alongside God's, is in fact not the work of Michelangelo. It was damaged beyond repair by a crack that appeared in the ceiling in the mid-16th century and was repainted by a papal restorer.

Anatomical theories

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 a physician named Frank Lynn Meshberger 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, including the frontal lobe, optic chiasm, brain stem, pituitary gland, and the major sulci of the cerebrum. 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"[1]), and that the scarf hanging out, coloured green, could be the just cut umbilical cord.

Notes

  1. ^ Stokes, p. 89
  • The creation of Adam is also known as The Donnadio, or gift of God in modern English.

References

  • Day, Fergus & Williams, David (ed.) (1998). Art: A World History
  • Meshberger, Frank Lynn. "An Interpretation of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam Based on Neuroanatomy", JAMA. 1990 Oct 10; 264(14):1837-41.
  • Stokes, Adrian (1955). Michelangelo: A Study in the Nature of Art
  • Letters in comment: JAMA. 1991 Mar 6; 265(9):1111.