Said iconographic model has precedents such as Giotto’s Creation of Man, a work dated around 1303 and integrated into the set of frescoes that decorate the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.
There are important differences. The first lies in the way of representing the face of the Creator. It was not too often that the face of the Father was depicted, but when it was, the face of Jesus was often used as the image of the Father.
As we can see in the image above, Giotto has remained faithful to this convention. Michelangelo, on the other hand, takes the license to assign a face closer to the iconography of Moses and the patriarchs, as had already happened in some Renaissance works.
The other difference between the Giotto example and this fresco by Michelangelo would be in the gesture and function of the hands. In Giotto’s Creation of Adam, the Creator’s hands represent a gesture of blessing on the created work.
In Michelangelo’s fresco, the right hand of God is not a traditional blessing gesture. God actively points his index finger at Adam, whose finger is barely raised as if waiting for life to dwell in it. Thus, the hands seem more like the channel through which life is breathed. The absence of light emanating in the form of a ray reinforces this idea.
Everything seems to indicate that Michelangelo has portrayed a snapshot of the right moment when God prepares to give life to the work of his “hands”.
We already see that Michelangelo did not obey an orthodox thought, but rather created his pictorial universe from his own plastic, philosophical and theological reflections. Now, how to interpret it?
From the believer’s point of view, God is a creative intelligence. Therefore, it is not surprising that one of the interpretations of The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo focuses its focus on this aspect.
Around 1990, physician Frank Lynn Meshberger identified a parallelism between the brain and the shape of the pink cloak, which envelops the Creator’s group. According to the scientist, the painter would have made a deliberate reference to the brain as an allegory of the superior intelligence that orders the universe, divine intelligence.
If Frank Lynn Meshberger was right, more than a window or portal that communicates the earthly and spiritual dimensions, the mantle would be the representation of the concept of creator God as superior intelligence that orders nature. But, even when it seems reasonable and probable, only a record by Michelangelo himself – a text or working sketches – could confirm this hypothesis.
Be that as it may, Michelangelo’s fresco stands out as a vivid expression of Renaissance anthropocentrism. We can certainly see a hierarchical relationship between both characters, God and Adam, due to the height that the Creator elevates over his creature.
However, this height is not vertical. It is built on an imaginary diagonal line. This allows Michelangelo to establish a true “likeness” between the Creator and his creature; allows you to represent in a clearer sense the relationship between the two.
The image of Adam looks like a reflection that is projected on the lower plane. The hand of man does not continue the downward inclination of the diagonal traced by the arm of God, but seems to rise with discrete undulations, achieving a sensation of proximity.
The hand, a fundamental symbol of the work of the plastic artist, becomes a metaphor for the creative principle, from which the gift of life is communicated, and an oblique reflection is created in a new dimension of the created work. God has made man also a creator.
God, like the artist, appears in front of his work, but the dynamism of the cloak that surrounds him and the cherubs that wear it indicate that he will soon disappear from the scene so that his work lives as a faithful testimony of his transcendent presence. God is an artist and man, like his Creator, is also.
González Hernando, Irene: Creation. Digital Magazine of Medieval Iconography, vol. II, No. 3, 2010, pp. 11-19.
Dr. Frank Lynn Meshberger: An Interpretation of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam Based on Neuroanatomy, JAMA, October 10, 1990, Vol. 264, No. 14.
Eric Bess: The Creation of Adam ‘and the Inner Kingdom. Epoch Times Newspaper, September 24, 2018.
University professor, singer, graduate in Arts (mention in Cultural Promotion), master’s degree in Comparative Literature from the Central University of Venezuela, and doctoral student in History at the Autonomous University of Lisbon.