Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling between 1508 and 1512 at the commission of Pope Julius II. It involved him working from the scaffolding. The work was tedious and very demanding. Most of the time he would lay on his back just below the ceiling painting with his arm up. In order to ease difficulties, he would mix different ingredients of paint to create one that wouldn’t drop from the ceiling into his eyes.
In the second part of the twentieth century, the paintings were cleaned and have gained the interest of the general public. After the examination of the fresco, several theories arose around it. One of them, proposed by Frank Lynn Meshberger states that the figure of God is placed within a shape of the human brain. Such statement is supported by the fact that Buonarroti was interested in human anatomy and took part in post-mortem examinations. He also expressed the idea that God-given genius is situated in the brain. Others have claimed that the cloud around God is a depiction of the uterus, which makes sense in the context of the fresco. Moreover, the female figure under the arm of God is thought to be Eve, especially since she’s looking at Adam. The researchers also found that the artist painted Adam with a hidden additional rib on his left side, this being the ‘rib of Eve’.
The figures of Adam and God are situated in two different worlds. Adam lays on the ground of what looks like a cliff, suggesting he is placed in our material world. On the other hand, God and twelve figures around him are floating in front of a drape, which indicates that they are a part of the spiritual world. The bodies of Adam and God are both muscular, but the latter looks energetic, while Adam appears weak.
In the centre of the fresco, there are extended hands of the two main figures. The point of ‘almost’ touch creates tension and anticipation of the unknown. This is the moment just before God puts life into the first man and with him the entire human race. Adam’s hand is receptive. His arm is supported on his knee as if he doesn’t have enough strength to hold it. He is waiting for God to reach him. Meanwhile, the Lord is actively moving towards him with His hand certain and powerful.
The fresco is incredibly hypnotising. Setting aside the fact that it depicts the creation of Adam, we can see it present something extraordinary. Through the ages, man has always searched for God. Especially in times of danger people turned to the Divine hoping for protection and saving. Still, God has always felt far away. Contrary to that, Michelangelo’s fresco shows God actively reaching the human and offering help of His own initiative. Therefore, the painting expresses a deep human longing for connection with the Divine.
Fruzsina Vida is the Arts & Culture Editor at The Yorker. If you have any questions or queries, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.