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

The Fall and Expulsion from Garden of Eden

Fresco, 280 x 570 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican

The sixth scene in the chronological order of the narrative, The Fall and Expulsion from Garden of Eden, is depicted in the large field of the vault of the second bay, between the triangular spandrels.

A bold and momentous step towards greater clarity was taken with the Fall of Adam and the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. It has been noted that the composition's three pilasters, the fallen pair to the left, the pair expelled from Paradise to the right, and the anthropomorphized tree of knowledge with the female tempter in the centre (the Tree of Life before the Fall), join arms at the top to form the letter M in uncial script. Was this intended to be Michelangelo's signature? To the left, the profusion of the Garden of Eden is indicated by a few details, but even among these a barren stump thrusts up its branches beside the archetypal female. To the right, total desolation surrounds the human couple.

The rhythm of the whole composition flows from left to right. Eve grasps the apple boldly, Adam greedily, but in misfortune he seems greater than the woman. He knows that through his fall God, who was near to him, has become inaccessible and remote. He almost disdains the garden of which he feels no longer worthy. In spite of rocks and the barren tree stump, Eden - the term signifies bliss - is too voluptuous and full of delight; the bodies are too plump and smooth, the foliage above their heads is almost too luxuriant. It is as though Michelangelo meant to say: 'This is not yet the truth; that will have to be won in the desert of our destiny.' It is, moreover, striking that the cherub with the raised sword pointing the way out, although in flight and strongly foreshortened, appears a twin of the tempter and, like her, issues from the tree (the Tree of Life; the Cabalistic Sephiroth). Good and Evil have divided and become a dual power. This idea, like nearly every fresco on the vault of the Sistine, is full of mysteries which, we now realize, have their parallels in artistic and structural mysteries. Everything connects in Michelangelo's designs. In spite of their intellectual content, in spite of his humbly self taught knowledge, he never became literary; nor did he think in logical categories or in terms of dialectic, but visually and in symbols.