The Hidden Scientific Meaning Behind Michelangelo's 'Creation of Adam'

Kamna Kirti

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Michelangelo's Creation of Adam.Wikipedia/Public Domain

The symbolic iconography of the masterpiece

Michelangelo — a polymath genius is considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time. A sculptor, painter, architect, and poet with an artistic versatility of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the conventional Renaissance man, along with his rival, the fellow Florentine, Leonardo da Vinci.

Michelangelo’s David, Pieta, The Last Judgment, Bacchus are a few of his artistic marvels.

Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam is a treasure trove that continues to inspire artists and scientists for centuries after his death. Although at first glance this painting depicts the biblical narrative, if we immerse deep into the artwork, we can understand creation and the laws of energy — a classic example of how he encompassed the creation of the human race in one painting.

This composition is chronologically the fourth in the series of intricate panels depicting the episodes of Genesis in the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The Sistine Chapel is located in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the pope, in Vatican City. The Chapel attracts millions of visitors from all over the world and is inarguably the most visited room. This extraordinary creation was commissioned by Pope Julius II and it took almost four years for Michelangelo to create the magnificent frescos, each carrying a symbolic meaning with it.

The composition of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam

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Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine ChapelWikipedia/Public Domain

Coming back to the creation of Adam, this painting reflects the incredible knowledge of Michelangelo in human anatomy. His experience in anatomical dissection is well documented by Renaissance artist Giorgio Vasari in Lives of the Artists. It all started when Michelangelo, at the age of 17, began dissecting corpses from the Church graveyard. 

The first thing most people note about God creating Adam is that the fingers don't touch. And rightly so — there was no need for physical contact to be made because Adam was created in a universe where thought alone controlled the outcome. 

This transfer of energy and the controlled manifestation of thought is the very teaching of what many of us are waking up to now — that our thoughts alone control the experiences we have. Every spiritual teacher in history has preached that control of the mind & ego is the very pathway to spiritual enlightenment.

God is portrayed as an elderly white-bearded man floating in the ether while Adam is on the ground. God faces down, Adam faces up. God is clothed, Adam is naked. God reaches with the (active) right hand, Adam with his left — a way of representing a balance. The conscious life here in the physical universe as represented by Adam and the original source as represented by God permeates the entire painting.

Art historians have provided many interpretations of this painting. In this video, I’ll share the most credible and widely accepted meaning.

The symbolic iconography of the fresco painting

The portrayal of the human brain

Notice the positioning of God in the painting. He resides right within the shape of the human brain. The figure of God juxtaposed on the human brain is the most common interpretation of the painting. 

In 1990, physician Frank Meshberger in Anderson, Indiana, pointed out that the shape portrayed behind the figure of God anatomically matches the human brain. The borders in the painting correlate with the frontal lobe, optic chiasm, brainstem, pituitary gland, and the major sulci of the cerebrum.

Such anatomical accuracy with the brain’s structure is one of the greatest revelations in this painting. Michelangelo being a religiously scientific man, and one of the greatest artists of all time tried to explore the mysteries of the human brain and biblical narrative in the same fresco.

The biblical narrative was to please his patrons and the church. While the anatomically accurate portrayal of the painting was to satisfy his own scientific curiosity.

The portrayal of the human birth process

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The portrayal of the human birth process in the painting.Wikipedia/Public Domain

Another research published was by a group of Italian researchers who interpreted God situated in a postpartum uterus of a woman and Adam lying on a woman’s torso.

  1. The brown arrow represents God’s figure juxtaposing with the postpartum uterus.
  2. The yellow arrows resemble the folds of the mucosa of the uterus in the postpartum period. The folds seem to appear only after the delivery and retraction of the uterus muscle.
  3. The blue arrow represents the uterine cervix.
  4. Adam seems to be resting on what looks like a rock which in ancient iconography portrays generating mother. The orange arrow just above Adam depicts the nipple of a female body.
  5. And, the green-colored scarf hanging out signifies the newly cut umbilical cord.

The portrayal of Eve’s Rib

The research done by the Clinical Anatomy journal (for which I’ll put the links in the description box) represented the extra hidden rib on the left side of Adam’s torso as the rib of Eve. This again depicted Michelangelo’s in-depth anatomical knowledge and portrayed that Adam and Eve were created together. This is a controversial narrative since it is against the Christian belief which states that Eve was created after Adam. I have already written an extensive article on this but that is another video for another day.

Regarding the identity of twelve figures around God, the most widely accepted interpretation is of English art critic Walter Pater who states that the figure protected by God’s left arm is Eve. The feminine aura and the gaze towards Adam justify the analysis. And the other eleven figures depict the entire human race. This belief was challenged by the Catholic Church stating the pre-existence of souls is regarded as heretical in Christianity.

Conclusion

You would think that if somebody was painting God next to a mere mortal, God should be portrayed infinitely bigger and have a status that would place man as a small insignificant being. But not in Michelangelo’s painting. 

Instead, we see humankind, represented by Adam, pretty much the same size as God — a balancing force to God’s power but one that nonetheless was ‘created’ or ‘derived’ from that very same source. In the painting, Adam and God are both of the same flesh, the same substance. That is to say, that man and god are not created from different materials, but are of the same energy, and their respective soul energy is no different.

The creation of man is a necessary act of self-preservation for God because without man, God cannot exist— to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and for god, man it is — we are the free will necessary to balance the power of the original conscious source.

It is difficult to interpret historical work in a contemporary context but Michelangelo’s knowledge of human anatomy convinced the art historians and researchers that everything in this painting not only has a deep artistic value but also an equal scientific rationale.

References

1. The "Delivery" of Adam. A Medical Interpretation of Michelangelo

2. An Interpretation Of Michelangelo's Creation Of Adam Based On Neuroanatomy

3. A Reflection and Analysis on the 'Creation of Adam' Sistine Chapel Fresco

4. The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo – The hidden meaning

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Being an Indian American and traveling to more than 11 countries, I have gained decent experience in adapting well to changing environments and exploring new places. I write about arts, history, culture, lifestyle, and technology.

Colorado State
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