The Creation of Adam

The Creation of Adam is one of the most recognisable paintings worldwide. However, very few people know that Michelangelo's aim in painting Adam is to create his own metaphorical (not literal) self-portrait.

In support of this statement, two key details are worth focusing on:

  1. God's figure is painted on a background that bears a striking resemblance to a human brain, but only the right hemisphere. According to the Kabbalistic tradition, this part of the brain is a source of Wisdom, in this case the Wisdom of God in his role of Creator. In addition, the multiple interlocking angel figures surrounding God represent the major brain centers and the ganglia (collections of neurons in the peripheral nervous system).

  2. The fingers of God's left hand touch the figure of a child whose pose mirrors that of Adam. This "child" is actually the soul which God is about to breathe in the first man. For that purpose, Adam is extending his left hand to God because blood vessels in the left arm lead directly to the heart. According to tradition, this is the hand that we use to receive blessings. Also a blessing is Michelangelo's gift - and coincidentally, the artist is himself left-handed.

In artistic geniuses such as Michelangelo, the spiritual elevation and wisdom associated with the right cerebral hemisphere
perfectly combine with the talent and an almost uncontrollable urge-like will to create.
Despite the complete lack of physical resemblance,
we have good reason to consider Adam's image
a self-portrait of Michelangelo's soul.

Image source: Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons