The Creation of Adam

The Creation of Adam

Year:c. 1511
Location:Sistine Chapel ceiling

    • 189.0 in × 90.6 in
    • (480.10 cm × 230.10 cm)

The Creation of Adam is part of a larger painting by Michelangelo that decorates the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel. Painted in 1511, this piece of artwork depicts God giving life to the newly created Adam, who is depicted nude as per the Genesis story in which he plays a central part. By showing the Creator and his creation in the same pose, Michelangelo was able to convey the idea that Adam was fashioned in the image of God.

Michelangelo’s Sistene Chapel painting is a fresco. This name comes from the Italian term “affresca”, which means fresh. This method of painting was named after a technique in which the pigment is mixed with water and applied to fresh lime mortar or plaster while it is still wet.

There have been many interesting interpretations of this painting. There is one theory that proposes the people and drapery surrounding the figure of God are purposely positioned by the artist to illustrate the anatomy of the human brain. One of the first individuals to put forth this theory was the physician Frank Meshberger.  It is also thought that  the gap between the fingers of God and Adam could be a possible reference to the communication of neurons in the clefts between synapses in the brain. There are possibly other anatomical references in the composition of the painting. For example, some have seen the shape of a uterus in the cloth wrapped around God and have speculated that the green cloth hanging from the side could be seen as a freshly cut umbilical cord.

Michelangelo left much of his paintings open to interpretation and speculation by those who view it. For example, he did not name the figures that he depicted around the image of God. While these unnamed figures could be angels or other heavenly beings, it has been theorized that they could just as easily be other varying biblical characters. There has been much speculation about the person seen under God’s arm. Some theories suggest that she could be anyone from Eve to the Virgin Mary or even a personification of Sophia (Wisdom).

Between 1984 and 1994 the Sistene Chapel was closed to the public so that its painted ceiling–including the The Creation of Adam–could be restored. This undertaking to restore the frescos was extremely complicated. Careful consideration had to be given to the chemicals that were used to strip off the layers of dirt and wax that had begun to dull the painting over many years. Although the restoration effort was a long and complicated process, the end result was well worth it. Michelangelo’s paintings were restored to their original vibrance and beauty.

Art historians and other observers have regarded Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam as one of the most important paintings in the world, and for good reason. Not many paintings have been subject to as many references, parodies or to as many studies as this painting has.

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