Michelangelo The Creation of Man
Michelangelo's The Creation of Man, a detail from his magnificent fresco that adorns the interior of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, is one of the most recognizable images in the Western imagination, an ubiquitous icon of Renaissance thought, and a triumph of the humanist spirit. Completed between 1511 and 1512 by the Italian painter Michelangelo Buonarroti, the scene depicts the moment when God created the first man, Adam. The figure is touched by God without their fingers meeting – as if an electrical charge of surging emotional force seems to link their two reaching digits. The perfect body of Adam lies outstretched, still bereft of the spark of life, surrounded by God and the angels, flying in the sky toward him in a burst of power and energy.
Of all the sections of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, The Creation of Man section has attracted the most attention and captures the imagination of the majority of visitors. The narrative centre of the scene is without doubt the approaching hands of the Lord and of Adam, reinforcing the central theme of Michelangelo's entire oeuvre as the centrality of man's existence in the world and the contact between mankind and the divine. The subject of countless interpretations, the most popular recent analysis was broached in 1990 by the American neurologist Frank Lynn Meshberger who published a study that he had conducted on the fourth segment of the Sistine Chapel. According to his research, the mantle and the angelic group surrounding the figure of God corresponds to the cross section of a human brain. As a result of careful research and comparisons between the human anatomy and the work of Michelangelo, many others have found a striking similarity between the billowing red cave behind the figures and the organ of human thought.
It is certainly likely that many of Michelangelo's acquaintances in the literary and philosophical sphere of Renaissance Italy would have been discussing the cognitive possibilities of man and the sentient thought process of the divine world. It is also possible that Michelangelo would have attended a number of illegal autopsies, allowing him a familiarity with the shape and faculties of the brain. Yet The Creation of Man was created as an expression of the prevailing Neo-Platonic mode of thinking that drove the Renaissance world, and an interpretation of the gift of thought as imparted through divine revelation in many ways denies the humanist and rationalist motives behind this monumental work.
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