9. divine depiction in God’s “own image”

9. Write a comparative commentary on
Michelangelo’s depiction in the Sistine Chapel of the Creation of Adam and the
Fall of Man/Expulsion from the Garden. You should analyse the techniques used and assess the place of the frescos in the scheme of
the chapel as a whole.

 

 

The Creation of
Adam and The Fall of man share the central triad of frescos where the audience
is invited to view the creation of Adam and Eve as well as their expulsion from
Eden. I t is this triad of frescos which marks the transition from pre-sin to
post sin – all the frescos that chronologically follow the expulsion depict the
journey for the redemption of man which culminates in the last judgement. This
turning point in the narrative is made explicit in the The Fall of Man itself
as it is split into two separate narratives, in different times creating a
stark contrast between the temptation and expulsion. It is ultimately this
divide which marks the transition from the creation of man and earth to man’s
redemption in the genesis narrative.

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Following the
genesis narrative across these two frescos we find the creation of man being
followed by his fall. This juxtaposition is created by Adam’s divine depiction
in God’s “own image” (Genesis 1:27) where he adopts, with his chest open, a
powerful pose with an immensely muscled body which is mirrored by an equally
muscular God and mirrored outstretched arm. This is in keeping with the idea of
Neoplatonism in which the soul of man has in fact the ability to ascend to the
level of God through virtue and philosophical meditation. We go on to find God’s
grace dishonoured in two frescos along the ceiling where Adam and Eve sin for
eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge. These two frescos ultimately offer
differing ideas to the audience in that the creation of Adam offers a pure,
emotionless and untainted version of man. This is then contrasted with the two
characters in the fall where their emotions convey their sin. Combined however,
and in the context of the genesis narrative they are used to the effect of
juxtaposing man’s spectacular and magnificent rise with his downfall.

In the fall both Adam
and Eve become rife with emotions in the two narratives of the fresco. By
having Eve’s body facing away from the serpent and reaching out the other way
the viewer is conveyed a sense of guilt from her. However, she does
simultaneously adopt a foetal position which conveys a sense of innocence and
presenting her as a victim despite ultimately choosing the authority figure of
the serpent which acts as a proxy for the devil over God. Adam on the other
hand is fully engaged with the serpent by having his whole body facing it and
extending towards it. The converse emotions are then expressed in the expulsion
where they lose their physical grace, their clumsy strides are out of pace with
one another and their wholeness is broken. The initial youthful beauty that is
portrayed in Eden on their faces is then aged and withered when they are
expelled due to them losing immortality and now having to labour the earth.
Ultimately their beauty and sensuousness have become anxiety and shame and
their confidence is replaced by cowardice and trepidation.

This innocence of Eve and Adam’s
eagerness is complemented by the seductive form of the serpent by taking the
conformation of a beautiful woman who offers no indication of a sinister motive
which creates a harsh contrast between the emotions portrayed in Eden compared
to the world. This serpent which coils around the forbidden tree provides a
dominant line through the centre of the painting which in turn divides the
scene into two distinct narratives of genesis 3, 4-5 and Genesis 3, 23-24
respectively.  Such a stark contrast between the two scenes is continued
by both Michelangelo’s slight deviations from the story, namely Eve being the
medium for providing Adam with the forbidden fruit of knowledge as well as
removing somewhat anecdotal events like the donning of fig leaves and the
hiding in the bushes of paradise.

This parsimony of content
heightens the rhythm and increases the pace of the scene and is enhanced by the
force lines created by the characters in the scene. The gazes of adam, eve and
the serpent create a closed composition in the temptation on the left and both
adam and eve occupy stances which fit into one another alluding to intimacy and
sexual implications and ultimately security.  Whereas the expulsion casts
the gaze of the viewer to the right and off the painting and into the earth
beyond eden. This is turn creates the idea of a large desolate expanse which
they are cast out to which is exacerbated by the two scenes split diagonally
and thus the world is occupying comparatively more space than eden. Eden which
though contains a boulder and tree stump has more scenery than the world which
contains nothing but an empty prairie. This in turn reflects the enormity of
their wrong doing and the infinitesimally large length of time before man can
be redeemed with the
return of Christ.

The creation of Adam
creates pace through the dynamism created through contrapposto in creating the
effect of wind running past God and his figures. The floating nebulous form
made up of drapery and other figures is supported on angels who fly without
wings, but whose flight is made clear by the drapery which whips out from
underneath them. This creates a sense of suspense due to the incoming energy
soon to be transferred to the lounging and somewhat lackadaisical depiction of Adam.
 Furthermore this chaotic red force
surrounding God is the last time it is seen in the genesis frescos as in the
following fresco God appears mortal through his aging as well as a brittle
static posture. This portrayal of humanism and realism can be extended to the
floating nebulous surrounding God in that its borders appear illustrate
be an anatomically accurate picture of the human brain.

The interpretation in
Augustine’s city of god is that the temptation prefigures the crucifixion. The
contrast between the cross and the tree of man’s fall had been stated by
Augustines precursor ambrose in the antithesis: “Death through the tree, life
through the cross”. The Tree of Knowledge can be seen to be composed so that is
resembles the cross if the expelling angel is seen as the arm opposed to the
branch which highlights this interpretation. Despite quite dominant lines
already in place, Eve’s gesture of reaching with the fruit becomes the angels
arm extended with the sword which could implicitly allude towards her being the
blame for original sin.  Although in flight and strongly foreshortened (which
adds depth to the vastness of the world), the angel appears a twin of the
tempter and, like her, issues from the tree of life. Being a proxy for god and
the serpent a proxy for the devil – a contrast between good and evil can be made.

The scene of the creation of Adam
is too divided between land and air where Adam is grounded by land and God,
with 12 other figures, is suspended in air with what by most is deemed a
portal.  The grounding of Adam on land
makes him mortal whereas God’s suspension in the sky immortalises him and so
creates a clear contrast between the earthly and divine space.  Furthermore, it is a closed image where the
force lines of Adam’s and God’s arms extend towards each other which bring the
viewer along their bodies to the centre of the fresco reflecting the divine
connection between them. The notion that one can ascend to God through virtue
is emphasised here with the force lines meeting in the middle as well as Adam’s
arm rising and meeting God’s and indeed exceeding it in level.

 

Cangiantismo is also employed to
deliver a perceived three-dimensional image creating a realist style.
Furthermore, they share the use of
contrapposto to create naturalistic figures which was a departure from the preceding style of medieval gothic which was employed and
can be seen by Masolino da Panicale in The Brancacci Chapel which is far more
static with less realistic body proportions. In the creation of Adam, both God
and Adam are painted with

Use of the primary colour red in
both frescos is applied interestingly in that all divine entities are dressed
in it, namely the angel in the expulsion and God in the creation of Adam. This
use of the colour red contrasts violently against its complementary colour
green which in both frescos is used to colour the grass of the earth. This
enforces the idea that these divine entities are in a mortal space. However
both are found in the backdrop of blue sky which is closer on the colour wheel
to red. The sky being in Christianity the direction to heaven compounds this
notion that the sky in both frescos acts as the bridge between heaven and
earth. The use of colour in setting is also in keeping with Genesis 1:26 where
God stated how man would have dominion over land and sky which is explicitly
painted as well as the sea which is alluded to with the drop off of land.