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Creation of Adam

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Creation of Adam

The Creation of Adam
Italian: Creazione di Adamo
Artist Michelangelo
Year c. 1512
Type fresco
Dimensions 570 cm x 280 cm (225 in x 110 in)[1][2]

The Creation of Adam is a fresco painting by Michelangelo, forming part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted circa 1511–1512. It illustrates the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God breathes life into Adam, the first man. The fresco is part of a complex iconographic scheme and is chronologically the fourth in the series of panels depicting episodes from Genesis. It is the most well-known of the Sistine Chapel fresco panels, and its fame as a piece of art is rivaled only by the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

The image of the near-touching hands of God and Adam has become iconic of humanity and has been reproduced in countless imitations and parodies. Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper and Michelangelo's Creation of Adam are the most replicated religious paintings of all time.


God is depicted as an elderly white-bearded man wrapped in a swirling cloak while Adam, on the lower left, is completely nude. God's right arm is outstretched to impart the spark of life from his own finger into that of Adam, whose left arm is extended in a pose mirroring God's, a reminder that man is created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26). Another point is that Adam's finger and God's finger are not touching. It gives the impression that God, the giver of life, is reaching out to Adam who receives it; they are not on "the same level" as would be two humans shaking hands, for instance.

Many hypotheses have been formulated regarding the identity and meaning of the figures around God. The person protected by God's left arm might be Eve due to the figure's feminine appearance and gaze towards Adam, but was also suggested to be Virgin Mary, Sophia, the personified human soul, or an angel of feminine build.[3]

The Creation of Adam is generally thought to depict the excerpt "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him" (

Anatomical theories

Several hypotheses have been put forward about the meaning of The Creation of Adam's highly original composition, many of them taking Michelangelo's well-documented expertise in human anatomy as their starting point. In 1990, an Anderson, Indiana physician named Frank Lynn Meshberger, M.D. noted in the medical publication the Journal of the American Medical Association that the background figures and shapes portrayed behind the figure of God appeared to be an anatomically accurate picture of the human brain.[5] Dr. Meshberger's interpretation has been discussed by Dr. Mark Lee Appler.[6] On close examination, borders in the painting correlate with major sulci of the cerebrum in the inner and outer surface of the brain, the brain stem, the frontal lobe, the basilar artery, the pituitary gland and the optic chiasm.[5]

Alternatively, it has been observed that the red cloth around God has the shape of a human uterus (one art historian has called it a "uterine mantle"[7]), and that the scarf hanging out, coloured green, could be a newly cut umbilical cord.[8] "This is an interesting hypothesis that presents the Creation scene as an idealised representation of the physical birth of man. It explains the navel that appears on Adam, which is at first perplexing because he was created, not born of a woman."[9]


Michelangelo's main source of inspiration for his Adam in his Creation of Adam seems to have been a cameo showing a nude Augustus Caesar riding sidesaddle on a Capricorn.[10] This cameo is now at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland.[11] The cameo used to belong to cardinal Domenico Grimani who lived in Rome while Michelangelo painted the ceiling. Evidence suggests that Michelangelo and Grimani were friends. The only parts of Michelangelo's Adam that could not have been borrowed from this cameo are his right hand and arm; this may explain why Michelangelo had to draw Adam's right hand and arm three times when he made the drawing for Adam that is now in the British Museum. Some scholars have been dissatisfied with the theory Michelangelo was mainly inspired by Lorenzo Ghiberti's Adam in his Creation of Adam. This cameo offers an alternative theory.[12]

Popular culture

The Creation of Adam is one of the most well-known and famous artworks of all time, and as such has been the subject of a number of references and parodies.[13] Some of these parodies have become famous in their own right, in particular, John Alvin's poster for Steven Spielberg's film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,[13] and Niklaas Jansen's artwork Touched by His Noodly Appendage, in which God is replaced by Bobby Henderson's Flying Spaghetti Monster.[14] Parodies have appeared on many well-known television programs including The Simpsons, The Muppets and Sesame Street.[14]


External links

  • Template:Sister-inline
  • Models of wax and clay used by Michelangelo in making his sculpture and paintings

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