Michelangelo, Pietà, 1498
Michelangelo returned to Florence after completing the Pietà but that sculpture, as well as the David, which
he carved in 1501-1504 made him famous. Julius II wanted him in Rome, and as already mentioned, put
him to work on his own tomb. In a few years, however, he was taken off that project and put to work on
decorating the Sistine Chapel ceiling. This was Michelangelo’s first commission for a fresco; it really may be
true that Bramante convinced the Pope to give Michelangelo this commission just to see him fail. The
first book of the Bible, Genesis, is the source for the main paintings on the ceiling, beginning with God
Separating Light from Dark over the altar, and ending with scenes from the story of Noah at the chapel’s
entrance. The Creation of Adam is the best known of the Genesis scenes. It illustrates the idea that God
created Adam in his own likeness from the earth. The poses of God and Adam are similar in general outline,
but God is full of dynamic energy, while Adam, perfectly formed and lying on the earth, is just barely coming
to life. Behind the figure of God is a billowing sheet containing a crowd of putti (small boys, often
representing angels) and a beautiful young woman who is likely Eve, still in the mind of God. Other scenes
in the corners are derived from other books of the Bible (Exodus, Kings, Judith, and Esther), and there are
also images of biblical prophets (each has his own book in the Bible) and sibyls from classical literature.
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