One of the most famous art works in the West, and perhaps even across the world, Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam is an enigma in more than one way. There have been numerous theories on the nature of the art-piece, its position on the ceiling (of the Sistine Chapel), its meaning, and generally its alarming imposition on us as human beings. Enigma that it is in a spiritual/religious sense, it is also paradoxical in the sense of its title – Creation of Adam, the first man, coincides with the creation of all the other personages around god.
Michelangelo’s fresco got a lot of attention due to the dynamism depicting the image of god. Though seemingly in one place, he also seems to be moving towards Adam – who surprisingly sits quite laid back. We can see this particularly in the moving of god’s hair and beard. Unlike most depictions of gods prior to this period, god is also scarcely clad, showing us a sense of approachability – prior to this period, god(s) were usually depicting in fine garments, resembling some kind of royalty.
There is little to say about Adam – except for his somewhat small sized reproductive organ [sidenote: organ doesn’t seem to be the right word here, though it is].
When we focus on the side of god, however, we find a lot of interesting theories. The traditional theory about the people around god have been that they are angels. The Sistine Chapel does not depict angels with wings anywhere, so this is quite possible.
Somewhat later, people theorised of the lady to be Eve, though this would contradict some parts of the Bible [sidenote 2: Bible literally means book in Greek, a bit pretentious to call something the book for so long]; and more importantly, it would contradict the fresco Creation of Eve that is painted on the same ceiling right next to this one. Needless to say, that theory does not seem very convincing.
Another traditional view is that god is hugging Virgin Mary, and that his finger is in fact touching Jesus. If that is the case, who are all the other ‘people’ in the background? Are we to expect Jesus’ siblings on earth at some point, or perhaps we already missed them and they didn’t have an impact that their older brother did?
The brain and uterus theories
So far for the established views. More modern theorists have posited that what we in fact see is not just some red drape around god, but a human brain. Frank Lynn Meshberger points out that this red drape anatomically, and almost completely, coincides with a human brain. And he is an MD, so he must know! Joking aside, Meshberger is rather convincing in his view that the red drape overlaps with the human brain.
Another modern theory comes from an art historian Adrian Stokes – not an MD sadly, but still an established art critic. In his view, the red drape depicts a uterus from which we are born, where the greenish lint is to be seen as an umbilical cord. The whole certainly looks like the placenta, for whoever has seen it laid out after birth of their children.2
Convincing as these views may be, they still do not tell us much about the figures behind God. Who are they? What can we say about them? Creation of Adam remains an enigma – a paradox of creation. If god created Adam first, then those around him cannot be human. The only possible solution I can find, which is for obvious reasons not a serious one, is the view held by proponents of ancient astronaut hypothesis [sidenote 3: why not theory?], which resembles creationism, and intelligent design too closely to be taken seriously. Then again, this is a religious work of art. Nevertheless, the question remains: who are these people?
On a final note, God’s finger that touches Jesus is crooked; if we really want to stretch it, there could be a conspiracy theory in there somewhere.
Woohoo, 3 sidenotes in one post!