(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)

Creation of Adam

Fresco, 280 x 570 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

The fourth scene in the chronological order of the narrative, the Creation of Adam, is depicted in the large field of the vault of the sixth bay, between the triangular spandrels.

Michelangelo's organization of the Sistine ceiling frescos represents perhaps the most complex composition in Western art. The space contains an intricate pseudo structure of architecture that frames the sculpture-like forms. Out of the nine narrative scenes depicting events from Genesis, the most sublime scene is this "Creation of Adam," in which his new vision of humanity attains pictural form.

It is scarcely possible to put into words the impressions roused by this marvellous painting; it is as though current passed from the painted scene to the beholder, who often feels that he is assisting at a hallowed world-shaking event. Michelangelo experiences the stages of creation within himself, retracing the way to the divine source by the double path of religion and of art. Now that, inspired by God, he has given form to Eve, elliptical and parabolic shapes begin to multiply; the number of orbits with two focal points increase. These were copied blindly during the following two centuries and became a decorative commonplace.

Precisely here, where man the microcosm and incarnate Word made in the divine image, the Adam Kadmon of Cabalistic doctrine, issues from the hand of God as the fingers of the Father and the son touch in a loving gesture, it is significant and convincing that the Eternal is circumscribed by the ellipse (symbolizing the 'cosmic egg') of his celestial mantle and angelic spirits, while Adam forms only an incomplete oval. Through the extended hands and arms the creative flash passes from one orbit to the other. Love radiates from the face of God and from the face of man. God wills his child to be no less than himself. As if to confirm this, a marvellous being looks out from among the host of spirits that bear the Father on their wings; a genius of love encircled by the left arm of the Creator. This figure has intrigued commentators from the beginning and has been variously interpreted as the uncreated Eve, or Sophia, divine wisdom. Be that as it may, this figure undoubtedly signifies beatific rapture.