Creation of Adam
It is difficult to overstate the brilliance of this work. It is the most famous image from the most famous work (the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) by the most famous and most gifted artist of the High Renaissance. Interestingly, Michelangelo actually resisted Pope Julius II's commission initially, on the grounds that he was not a painter (his preferred medium was sculpture). Once he accepted the commission, however, the result would prove to be his masterpiece.
The image of the Creation of Adam section (only one of 33 scenes on the chapel ceiling) is that of God transmitting the will to live, via his outstretched finger, to Adam. Unlike earlier versions, that had God raising him up physically, Adam is fully formed and awake here. He is turned slightly to the viewer to display the full beauty of his torso, which was modeled on an antique fragment known as the Belvedere Torso that was in Julius II's personal collection. Contrasting Adam's languid pose, God is depicted as a powerful, vigorous presence, surrounded by clusters of angels. Sheltering the soon-to-be-born Eve under his arm, God's figure, like Adam's, is rooted in sculpture--appropriate given Michelangelo's background.
The rudimentary nature of the scene's background serves to accentuates the figures. It also reveals Michelangelo's roots in the tradition of Early Renaissance narrative painting in Florence. Indeed, the entire chapel ceiling, taken as a whole, is a work of narrative art.
Standing as a shining example of Renaissance Christian art, Creation of Adam, along with the rest of the Sistine ceiling, has served as a benchmark of imagery of the divine since its unveiling.
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