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The Creation of Adam

From Michelangelo to today

Generally thought to depict the excerpt “God created man in His own image, etc., that of Michelangelo is perhaps the best known fresco painting of all time. Despite its importance as a single representation, The Creation is just a part of the great Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, painted c. 1508–1512. 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. Many hypotheses have been formulated regarding the identity and meaning of the twelve 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 goddess of wisdom, the personified human soul, or an angel of feminine build.

Michelangelo’s main source of inspiration for his Adam may have been a cameo showing a nude Augustus Caesar riding sidesaddle on a Capricorn. The cameo used to belong to cardinal Domenico Grimani who lived in Rome while Michelangelo painted the ceiling. It is now at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland.

Over time, the image of the near-touching hands of God and Adam has become iconic of humanity and, as expected for such a painting, has been reproduced in countless imitations and parodies.

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