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Friday, 12 February 2016

Painting of the Month (59): Feb 2016, Michelangelo

God Creating Adam, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, painted 1508-1512
Pope Julius II had persuaded Michaelangelo to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel although he initially resisted because he was primarily a sculptor. Now it would be difficult to deny that he produced one of the most iconic images ever created. The Sistine Chapel is in the Vatican Palace and is named for Pope Sixtus IV, who was responsible for it's restoration shortly before this masterpiece was made.
Michelangelo's painting is without precedent and changed the course of Western Art for ever; his technical genius was outstanding. The painting is a fresco (literally fresh in Italian) because the artist applies water-colour paints directly to freshly laid plaster so that the paint soaks into the plaster as it dries and the painting becomes an integral part of the wall.
It is interesting to compare this mural with Leonardo's Last Supper which was not a fresco and the paint of which began to peel after about sixty years and is now in a desperately poor condition. When God Creating Adam was cleaned a few years ago there were some who refused to believe it was the same painting because the colours were so vibrant!
God Creating Adam is one of six ceiling panels in the chapel which is constantly packed solid with crowds wanting to see the work. When I saw it some years ago a group of priests were ushering people through so one only got about five minutes viewing time!
What is remarkable about Michelangelo's depiction of God is that he is shown in a very human form, not aloof or wearing fine robes but, instead, with a muscular body and wearing a light tunic. He is seen in an intimate and accessible 
way which becomes moving and full of meaning. God and the angels are depicted inside a human brain (I bet you didn't notice that before!). The implication is that God is not only creating the physical form of Adam but imbuing him with intellect at the same time. The position of Adam's hand is relaxed and limp - he appears to not yet have been given life, whereas Gods hand is alert and active. We are witnessing the critical moment. 
Listening to British folk-singer Kathryn Williams covering a couple of sad songs. Firstly, Velvet Underground's Candy Says
followed by Jackson Browne's These Days.