The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel

The Creation of Adam painted in the year 1511 by Michelangelo Buonarotti on the Sistine Chapel ceiling must still today be one of the most recognizable images in art history.

On the 10th of May 1508 Michelangelo Buonarotti began painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was originally asked by Pope Julius II to design his tomb but under the suggestion of the architect Bramante, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to fresco paint the twelve apostles on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The 32-year-old Michelangelo originally refused but agreed if he could paint scenes from the Old Testament rather than painting the twelve Apostles. Half way down the chapel ceiling Michelangelo painted what was to become one of the most well known fresco paintings of all time, The Creation of Adam.

What the Creation of Adam depicts

The Creation of Adam or Creazione di Adamo shows God with his outstretched right arm reaching towards Adams finger to give him life as the first man as said in the Book of Genesis in the Bible, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him.”

God is surrounded by a red cloth in which there are twelve figures. God has his arm around a woman who scholars believe to be the unborn Eve. The shape of the red cloth has been open to interpretation for centuries and with Michelangelo’s controversial studies of anatomy it is believed to depict a human organ. Michelangelo was know to dissect corpses to study the bone and muscle structure when creating his statues. Some believe the shape of the cloth is the brain or the heart but the most common argument is that it depicts the human uterus with the green scarf at the bottom being the cut umbilical cord while the figures surrounding God symbolise the future descendants of Adam and Eve.

creation of Adam Sistine Chapel

The process of the Creation of Adam

Michelangelo did not want anyone to see the process of the frescos until they were complete but there was an agreement between Michelangelo and Pope Julius II that the first half of the chapel would be unveiled once it was finished. Everyone who saw the first half of the ceiling was very impressed but it was almost a year before Michelangelo could begin work painting the second half of the chapel.

The first scene from the Old Testament Michelangelo was to paint when he got back to work on the second half was the Creation of Adam. You can clearly see that Michelangelo’s style changed and the figures became bigger and clearer to see when looking up from the floor. With a lot less detail in the second half of the ceiling Michelangelo could work much more quickly.

Remarkably the Creation of Adam was painted in around sixteen days or two to three weeks. The figure of Adam was painted in just four days, one day to paint the head and the surrounding sky, a second day to paint the torso and arms and each leg taking a day each. The figure of God was painted in just four days. One of the main inspirations for the figure of Adam came from the famous statue, the Belvedere Torso which Michelangelo saw on a regular basis in the Vatican. We know that Michelangelo made many sketches in preparation for the Creation of Adam in which two full sketchbooks were completed just for this fresco. These two sketchbooks can be seen today in the British Museum in London including studies for a reclining nude and studies for the arms and hands.

How to Visit

Want to see the Creation of Adam for yourself? Here’s how to visit the Sistine Chapel: you must first purchase a ticket to enter the Vatican Museums which will lead you to the Sistine Chapel. The Creation of Adam is almost exactly in the middle of the ceiling and you can’t miss it thanks to its size. This part of the fresco is 9 feet x 18 feet (or 280 c.m X 570 c.m).