Michelangelo's Creation of Adam might only be a part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but something about this painting makes it stand out. It can be considered one of the most iconic images in European art history.
It portrays more than the artist's bold point of view – it is no wonder that the painting, even while placed next to the Creation of Eve and the Congregation of the Waters, still makes the most famous section of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. In Michelangelo's time, most painters created their art in one specific way. Creation scenes were a common subject, but the Creation of Adam broke the boundaries that were set in the field of art and went out of the ordinary. Dominating the picture is a figure of God and a figure of Adam.
Adam, located on the left side, is painted in a somewhat relaxed fashion. His figure appears to be responding to the imminent touch of God – this is where the title comes in. Adam is receiving life directly from the source, and through the life given to him – he will, in turn, give life to all of humanity. Religious themes provided some of the most inspirations content for artists from the Renaissance.
This picture, in a sense, depicts more than the creation of the first man, in fact, it shows the very start of what would later become the human race. Adam's figure is curved as he stretches out to God, taking one's mind to the idea that man is made in the likeness of God himself. The way the two dominant figures relate and correspond to each other, one can almost see the closeness that Adam has with his creator. Michelangelo made the Creation of Adam in such a way that the figure of Adam echoes the figure of God, almost as if one is nothing but an extension of the other.
God's form, in turn, is stretched out to reach Adam. However, God appears to be in some suspended imperceptible shape that houses him and other angelic figures. The angels within Michelangelo's frame differ from the typical impression of angels in that they do not have wings. These angels hold up the support that God is painted upon, and there appears to be some drapery whipping out in their background. In this figure, God's form has been made clear, almost as if he were human. He is elderly, but even with his long grey hair and equally long beard, his body is masculine and somewhat youthful.
Michelangelo's Depiction of God
Compared to the imperial images of God that other artist had painted before, it is clear that Michelangelo took a bold step with this piece. God has always been thought of as a majestic and all-powerful ruler of mankind. One would expect such a personality to be painted wearing royal garments and such, but Michelangelo reduces him to a simple old man in a simple light tunic with most of his limbs exposed. This image puts a question in one's mind – what if this is the face of God? It is an intimate portrayal of his being. God is shown to be accessible, touchable, and close to his creation as his figure forms a convex shape to reach out to Adam.
Theories on the Painting
Art is anything but clear, and much controversy has been raised about the angelic figures that are holding up the weight of the creator. They are wingless, so much doubt exists about their identity as angels. Directly under God's arm, there is a female figure. Traditional art critics identified this figure as Eve who was patiently waiting by God's side for her creation to be complete. She would later become Adam's wife. Some have identified her as the Virgin Mary who would later bear the Messiah – Christ. The later theory rose because of the child painted next to the female figure – itis debated that this might be Christ child who waits patiently by his father's side. This theory is fueled by the image of God's fingers which as lightly placed on the child's form. In this theory, the Creation of Adam becomes much more that a picture showing the start of mankind – the painting starts to show some connection between the start of the human race and the salvation of the human race that according to Christianity, was brought by the son God – Jesus Christ.
Being a sculptor, elements of Michelangelo's primary occupation are shown in this painting. The figures appear to be works of sculpting than they appear to be works of brush strokes. The Sistine Chapel ceiling is a sort of summary of the book of Genesis. There is the Story of Noah, that of Adam and Eve, and there is general Story of Creation. The Creation of Adam stands out because the style it is painted in differs from the other frescos. For instance, the figures are more dominating.
However, one thing remains unclear, what does this painting mean? It is one thing to analyse the contents and make obvious conclusions from the way the figures appear to the eye, but to truly decipher the deeper meaning of a painting is something different. Michelangelo's palette is very beautifully captured on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but this painter truly had a unique way of looking at the world. His inspiration came from the most extraordinary of places, and for the Creation of Adam, God only knows how and why he decided to create this masterpiece.
The Meaning of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam
The obvious meaning of this painting has everything to do with the creation of man and the start of the human race, but looking deeper, this painting is about the relationship that the creator has forged with his creation. By simply stretching out his arms, God creates Adam and points out the Christ child as Adam's saviour. Here, the creator is truly all knowing. He is about to bestow Adam with everything that he will need, but God has already seen the fall of man after temptation from the devil. He, therefore, anticipates this fall and presents a ready solution through Christ.
But there is still a big grey area in this picture – are Adam and God letting go of each other or are they reaching out to each other? The way their fingers are painted, it is hard to tell if God and man satisfy their mutual desire to co-exist or if the two are separating and man is going off to live an independent life. Observing the form of Adam, we see that he is relaxed. This could be interpreted to mean that although he is alive, he is still lifeless. He is, therefore, reaching out to God to receive that one component that separates man from every other beast that roams the fields. As for God, he looks rather focused. His figure appears active like he is hard at work to make his creation perfect. So it would, therefore, make sense to conclude that the figures are reaching out to each other in a union and they are not separating from each other.
Even geographers have interpreted this painting to be similar to two landmasses joined by a narrow strip but separated by a huge canal. Scientists have analysed the picture to symbolise the birth of mankind, drawing their hypothesis from the red backdrop which they interpreted to be a human uterine mantle with the green scarf symbolising an umbilical cord that has been recently cut.
All these interpretations, more or less, point to the same thing. But why did Michelangelo make the hands in that way? Why not make them meet? It is frustrating to think about it. This one detail is the entire reason this painting is famous. The space between the two fingers is a little under an inch, but this gap makes the entire picture worth a second and a third look. Even with the conclusions that have been made about the meaning of this painting, it is still very enigmatic. Looking closer, one is inclined to see what is not there – inclined to feel the force that seems to exist between the two fingers. It is like an electric charge, and as the picture sinks into the mind, there exists some realisation that makes an observer aware of the importance that the painting holds. This is the very start, one wrong move and humanity would have taken a completely different path. There is the concept of delicacy involved, and the way God is focused on the task at hand, one can almost tell that he aims only for perfection and nothing less.
It gets more interesting when one imagines the two fingers touching. Oh, what Adam must have felt like the touch of immortality made its way into his very soul. Michelangelo captures what the church has been trying to explain to its followers for centuries – he captured the divine spark of life. He captured the proof that God and man are nothing if not the perfect image of one another. Michelangelo, through the Creation of Adam, silently presents the past, the present, and the future of humanity in one frame. One can say that this image was made at the very beginning of time, for what it shows is incredible. To the simple eye, it is simply a picture of two figures reaching out to each other, but look closer and that simple moment before the finger of God breathes life into the finger of Adam becomes the essence of everything we know and believe.
The painting glorifies God in a number of ways. The fact that he starts an entire race of people by a simple touch of a finger should be enough to establish his place as the all mighty, but Michelangelo takes it even further. God does not have to touch Adam for an observer to feel the power, the strength, and the life transferring from one finger, across the gap, and into the other finger. In its right, this painting deserves all the acknowledgement it gets. There is another angle to this. For those who have seen the title of the painting and know the story of creation, it is easy to make conclusions, but for those that have never heard of Michelangelo or his work, it becomes a little difficult to know what the Creation of Adam is about. Looking at the painting from such a perspective, there is no spark between the fingers, there is no Christ child, and there is certainly nothing related to the birth of mankind. All there is to this painting are two figures inclined towards one another.
The Relationship between Creation and the Creator
The delicate connection between the creator and creation only comes in after one understands what the painting is about, but there is one more issue. The power concept depicted here is not as a result of the picture at all. The fact that most people know the story behind this painting blinds them to the fact that these are simply two delicately reaching out to one another, both with a sense of yearning and restraint. Their fingers are stretched out to the point of touching, but their hands are stretched out in a void of nothingness, and frankly, those angels that are holding up the form of God appear to be failing at that task. Without influence from the story of creation, this painting becomes a show of love and friendship. It ceases to be about God's Creation of Adam and becomes about two people who simply want to connect with each other. This is the aspect of the picture that is both comforting and heartbreaking. It is hard to imagine a man without God, but imagining the relationship between the two personalities as strictly one sided is not all that comforting either.
The Use of Symbolism with this Painting
Now back to the red backdrop located behind God's image. Some believe this backdrop to be a brain. This has led to the conclusion that God purposely kept intelligence from Adam. God withheld the knowledge of good and evil from his creation, and it was only after Adam had sinned that God came to allow him this knowledge. But if the analysis of this painting has taught us anything, it is that God did not just create man, he forged a relationship with man. Looking close at the painting, one can truly see the boldness by which it was created. Michelangelo's brushstrokes were sure and energetic – he left no space to chance. Books have been written, re-interpretations have been made, but the real beauty of the Creation of Adam is not that it will forever be a timeless masterpiece, it is that this piece relates to each and every single person on the face of this earth. It is the start of all of us, no matter the differences. This painting has been interpreted dozens of times, and yet it remains to be fully understood. There is something about looking at it that cannot be captured in words, no matter how poetic. Michelangelo, in those more than a hundred brushstrokes, painted life itself. He painted the source of life, the beginning of life, and by including the image of the Christ child, he painted everlasting life. He captures that moment before it all started, taking us back to the beginning of it all when the human race was just but vague imagination in the air. The incredible detail in this piece is delightful, and the way it fits in with all the other pieces to make up the whole ceiling is breathtaking.
It is outstanding how many painters have tried and failed to truly capture the moment of Adam's creation. Michelangelo captures the entire process, leaving nothing out. This fresco is as enduring as they get, and as he lays back on the earthly terrain, his physical strength is apparent to the eye of an observer. He is the perfect specimen of the ideal Greek or Roman male figure, but even with his elegance and undulating muscles, this creation is not complete. Adam still extends out to God, showing his dependency on the Creator. God sustains him, and although Adam appears complete, he still stretches out to meet the simple touch of God. The very image of God is the very image of Adam, and as they look into each other's eyes, there is an intense and beautiful connection between them. Adam looks at his creator with longing, and at this moment, Michelangelo captured everything that makes human beings what they are. The picture shows the threshold of creation as Adam stretches out to receive nourishment that will allow his physical form to survive. God stretches out to bestow upon his creation the spirit and the soul. By capturing this one moment, the creation of Adam's physical and spiritual self will forever be remembered by every generation.
When did Michelangelo Paint The Creation of Adam?
The Creation of Adam is Michelangelo’s fresco painted c.1508-1512 and forms part of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. The painting is based on the biblical story of creation which depicts God breathing life into Adam, the first man created, in the Book of Genesis. It’s the fourth in the series of a complex iconographic scheme portraying episodes from Genesis. The painting portrays a completely nude Adam on the lower left, and God as a white-bearded elderly man dressed in a swirling veil. God’s right arm is outstretched to almost be in touch Adam’s left hand, signifying the spark of life being passed to humanity. Both God’s and Adam’s fingers are not in contact, which signifies the gap that exist between them, and that they are not on the same level, as would be with two people shaking hands. The man’s image appears a mirror reflection of God, which symbolises God creating man in his own image and likeness.
There are many hypothesis regarding the significance of the figures around God, and most notably, on his left arm. The figure takes the form of a woman, which could portray Eve, due to the manner in which she gazes at Adam, although there are suggestions that Michelangelo might have had Sophia the goddess of wisdom, Virgin Mary, a female angel, or a human soul which is personified, in mind. Pope Julius II invited Michelangelo back to Rome in 2950. He was mandated with building the Pope's tomb, which was expected to be complete within five years, with the inclusion of forty statues. There were numerous interruptions in his work which hindered him from completing the tomb to his satisfaction, despite working on it for 40 years.
The tomb is located in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, and it’s made famous by the 1516 central figure of Moses. The Dying Captive and the Heroic Captive were statues intended for the tomb but were transferred to Louvre. The Sistine Chapel ceiling painting done by Michelangelo during the same period took about four years to complete, from 1508 to 1512. Bramante, who was working on St Peter's Basilica, according to Condivis account, was not pleased with the commissioning of Michelangelo by the Pope to work on the Pope’s tomb. This compelled him to convince the Pope to delegate some unfamiliar task to him with the intention that Michelangelo would fail at the new task.
Who Commissioned Michelangelo to Paint the Sistine Chapel?
The Pope had initially commissioned Michelangelo to paint the “Twelve Disciples” on the ceiling’s triangular pendentives supports, and have ornaments cover the central part. He, however, persuaded Pope Julius to offer him a task of a more complex scheme which represented, creation, the fall of man, prophet’s salvation, and Christ's genealogy. The work represents the larger scheme of decoration which is symbolic to the Catholic Church’s doctrine. The composition carries more than 300 images and stretches over 500 square metres on the ceiling. God’s creation of the Earth, God’s creation of mankind and the fall from God’s grace and Noah and his family’s representation of humanity, are the three divisions at the centre of the composition, based on nine episodes from the Book of Genesis.
The ceiling is supported by twelve pendentives with paintings of men and women, five Sibyls Classical world’s prophetic women and seven prophets of Israel, who prophesied the coming of Jesus. The creation of Adam, The Deluge, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Cumaean Sibyl, and the Prophet Jeremiah are the most significant paintings on the ceiling. Cameo portraying a nude Augustus Caesar riding on a Capricorn could be credited to Michelangelo’s main inspiration for the subject, Adam, on his painting, Creation of Adam.
What other Paintings did Michelangelo add to the Sistine Chapel Ceiling?
The Creation of Adam fresco is one of the better known elements of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. This artwork has featured all across the international media ever since it was completed and is the most recognisable fresco produced by Michelangelo. The symbolic references found in this artwork show God giving life into Man, as represented by Adam. This is clearly a key topic within Christianity and deserved it's prominent position within the overall collection of frescos on the ceiling. Adam and Eve were frequently represented together in Renaissance art around the time of artist Michelangelo, but this was an artist who always looked to tackle topics and themes differently to other artists, as also seen by his David sculpture, for example.
Creation of Adam is a famous fresco painting by Italian painter Michelangelo and this website is devoted to this influential and highly respected religious art work. You can find images of the Creation of Adam Michelangelo painting below, including a detailed version of the main focus of the work. There is also some discussion of the Creation of Eve accompanying art work which was also created by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel as a fresco. Those interested can also find Michelangelo paintings here. Michelangelo was a highly influential member of the Italian Renaissance art work who was skilled in many different fields in a similar way to fellow creative figure, Leonardo da Vinci.
Michelangelo and the Renaissance Era
During the Renaissance period Michelangelo was seen as one of the best choices for high paying commissions and this led to his extensive work in the Sistine Chapel where he would decorate it's ceiling to incredible detail. The work was completed within the 16th century. Creation of Adam is just one part of this huge fresco but it is regarded as one of the most important and artistically impressive parts of the whole work. Creation of Adam is a famous religious moment in the teachings of Christianity which remains strong within Italy. The painting captures the scene of God breathing life into Adam who was to become the first man and was later joined together with Eve who helped to start off the human race as we know it. Adam and Eve have been featured in endless paintings with a high frequency coming during these Renaissance periods when religion was even more influential within society.
The connection in this painting between the fingers of Adam and God, which symbolises the spark of life being created, is very popular in it's own right for some who actually prefer this cropped version of the larger work and often buy it as an art print reproduction to add to their own home, or alternatively as a poster or stretched canvas. The panel to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which includes this work came towards the end of the overall installation of the completed art work. Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel is amongst the biggest tourist attractions within Italy and has been for many years, with regular work being completed in order to ensure that the extraordinary fresco does not become damaged over time, having already covered the past 500 years.
Few art installations have been around as long as this, and given as much inspiration to so many which is why it continues to attract respect and appreciation from art academics and the public in equal measures. All of the Creation of Adam images within this website are accompanied by links which will take you straight through to our recommended Art.com gallery that hosts a great collection of giclee art prints, posters and stretched canvases of Michelangelo's works with many different versions of the Creation of Adam fresco ready to buy. We use Art.com ourselves and are more than happy to recommend them to you, particularly as they have such a wide selection of Creation of Adam prints available and they also give a great service too.
Michelangelo created four panels within the Sistine Chapel, depicting episodes from the Christian book of Genesis and these extracts are still very well known within the continuing population of Christians who remains great in number across Europe and in large parts of most other continents as well. Italian art in general has become seen as spearheading all of Europe during the Renaissance periods and the developments in art which happened here were crucial in moving towards all the contemporary movements which we enjoy today. The Creation of Adam has become an iconic image which almost everyone recognises, without necessarily knowing who the original artist was or what the actual meaning of the piece was.
It can quite reasonably claim to be as well known as other significant paintings and frescos such as Da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Michelangelo also created the David sculpture when demonstrating a similarly impressive spread of skills to match fellow-artist Leonardo da Vinci. Creation of Adam prints are regularly purchased right across the world today thanks to the spread of popularity in Italian art from the 15th and 16th centuries where it played a crucial role in bringing in new ideas and techniques to European art that breathed new life into otherwise relatively stale art that existed around the Middle Ages.
It is particularly in American and Christian countries across Europe which celebrate the beauty of the Creation of Adam fresco. We hope that you appreciate this website and we hope to develop this website over the coming years, with more information on the fresco itself, the Sistine Chapel as well as the artist Michelangelo. We also want to translate the site into different languages as it expands to, to help reflect the true international audience which surrounds this extraordinary piece of 16th century Italian art work.
List of Famous Michelangelo Paintings
Please see below for a summarised list of the best Michelangelo paintings that are featured throughout this website.
Creation of Adam
Separation of Light and Darkness
The Libyan Sibyl
The Conversion of Saul
Sistine Chapel Lunette and Popes
Matyrdom of St Peter
Creation of the Sun and Moon
Creation of Eve
Conversion of Saint Paul
Crucifixion of Saint Peter
Fall of Man
Torment of Saint Anthony
Punishment of Haman
Separation of Land and Water
Hi, I'm Tom!
I'm the writer and founder of Michelangelo.net. I have studied different art movements for over 15 years, and am also an amateur artist myself! Read my bio here.