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Renaissance Top 48: Creation of Adam (Sistine Chapel)

Identification

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Creation of Adam (detail), ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome, Italy, 1511-1512. Fresco, approx. 9' 2" x 18' 8".

Context

In this time period, Michelangelo was heavily interested in avoiding painting similar to traditional representations. Instead, he decorated the Sistine Chapel with bold and entirely humanistic interpretations of the stories within the Bible. 

During the High Renaissance, it was believed that communication between gods and heroes (ex. God and Adam) was common and understood to occur. This depiction of the Lord indicates how easily the people of the High Renaissance joined classical myths with the Christian religion. 

Content

Two figures dominate the scene: God on the right, and Adam on the left. The representation of God is dressed in light fabric, and the artist used drapery to depict his dress and enhance his physique. Adam is depicted as if on Earth, and God is visiting him from his divine quarters with several other figures supporting him. In the middle, audience members may see the "spark" being communicated to Adam from the mighty hand of God, and this "spark" may be assumed to be the gift of life. The woman underneath God's arm had not been defined or identified by Michelangelo, however observationists have assumed her to be Eve or the Virgin Mary with the Christ's child at her knee. If this assumption that she is the Virgin Mary is ever proven true, that would then mean Michelangelo incorporated an aspect of the Christian faith into his piece - the belief tht Adam's original sin eventually led to the sacrifice of Christ, which in turn resulted in the redemption for all mankind.

Image

Form

  • Fresco
  • Depiction of Adam is foreshortened slightly
  • God reaching towards Adam: forces the eye to follow the movement from right to left
  • Adam reaching towards God: forces the eye to follow the movement from left to right, creating lines
  • Finger touch is very off-center, Michelangelo's decision, done so in order to make his piece unique to Leonardo's compositions, provides curves and diagonals
  • Movement* - reclining position of some figures, twisted bodies, heavy musculature 
  • Drapery of God's clothing - chiaroscuro, meant to define his solidity

Function

This piece illustrates the creation of Adam, hence its title, and humanizes the event. The illustration of such an event is so important for its function of teaching its audience of the story and also making the story, featuring idols and the divine, seem very realistic. The Creation of Adam, along with all others illustrated around the Sistine Chapel, were also used as beautiful decoration for such an immaculate building.