Michelangelo - The creation of Adamfresco, 1510/11, 280 x 570 cm in Vatican

Bring me to life


Description and interpretation of the famous painting 'The creation of Adam' by Michelangelo!

Michelangelo Buonarotti - The Creation of Adam

On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums, a fresco by Michelangelo spreads out like a heavenly tent of Old Testament stories. Slain by the pictorial violence in 520 m2 and the approximately 300 pictorial figures, urged by the tourist currents and calls of the supervisors: "Go on, no Flash", the eye searches for a hold and finds peace in exactly one well-known pictorial event: "The Creation of Adam.

The 280 x 570 cm ceiling fresco shows a naked man lying on a green ledge. His right arm supports his upper body, his left leg is set up. His gaze follows the left, outstretched arm with forefinger leading. Opposite him floats a grey haired, bearded man in a pink robe. With his body stretched out, he leans towards the young man and also stretches out his right hand. The older person is held and supported by several naked putti. A female figure is under the left arm of the man being carried. Almost all eyes are on the young man. The group is surrounded by a fluttering, dark pink cloth. A delicate turquoise ribbon flutters under the group, parallel to the legs. As the title suggests, the main figures depicted are Adam and God. While the ban on pictures was taken seriously in the Middle Ages, since the Renaissance - as here - God the Father has been embodied. The recourse to antiquity can be seen in the choice of the type of ancient philosopher. 

Michelangelo worked on the nine-part ceiling fresco from 1508 to 1512. At just 33, he was commissioned by Pope Julius II to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. For the "buon fresco" technique, in which the paint is applied to the still damp plaster, the trained sculptor commissioned a group of specialized employees to work under his strict instructions. The master built his own wooden construction, which did not disturb the religious and ritual processes in the chapel and offered the craftsmen a stable platform at a height of 18 to 20 metres by resting on the protruding beams.

According to the Bible, God created man from the soil of the ground and breathed life into his nose. The fourth scene of the Genesis cycle, which Michelangelo Buonarotti made in 1510/11, seems to be shortly after the creation of man. In Michelangelo's portrayal, the Creator awakens the sluggish Adam much more to life with his powerfully outstretched finger; he transmits his energy, so to speak, with his hand. The overall picture is structured by several diagonals from the upper right corner to the lower left corner. The resulting dynamic is only "disturbed" by the scene in the middle of the picture: The outstretched arms in horizontals break through the composition, in the center of which the hands of the pictorial figures stand. While Adam loosely supports his hand on his bent leg, the posture of the hand of God reveals that the Creator stretches out the index finger with more effort. The fingers of the protagonists are incredibly close, but there is no touch. This physical and conceptual gap is essential for the interpretation of the picture.

60 years after completion of the fresco, Giorgio Vasari writes: "A figure whose beauty, posture and outline appear as if it had been created by the first and highest creator himself, but not by the brush and according to the drawing of a mortal man". The faithful Michelangelo was far from placing himself or man on the same level as the Almighty. The fingers of the figures do not touch each other in this way - as tiny as the gap appears to be, so is the difference between man and his Creator. Some researchers also assume that the cloud of cloth in which God is to be found corresponds in form and colour to the human brain or a womb. The bluish shawl would therefore be a freshly cut umbilical cord. The woman behind God is seen by some art historians as a prefiguration of Eve, who, according to the Bible, is subsequently formed from Adam's rib. It is speculated that the ellipse formed by God and the angels symbolizes the cosmic egg as a perfectly formed oval. On the other hand there is the incomplete oval of the Adam.

Whether Michelangelo actually intended this symbolism remains unclear. The mastery of the work is consolidated in the history of art by many interpretations. It remains undisputed that the anatomical representation of the Adam makes the work a key work of the Renaissance . The athletic figure, which depicts the human body in harmony, corresponds to the idealized beauty. In the following centuries, the moment of tension of the hands became a "pars pro toto" and a mass-reproduced excerpt. "The Creation of Adam" by Michelangelo is probably the most famous fresco in the world.

© the artinspector / frauke maria petry