Wednesday, December 21, 2011

O King of All the Nations!

Michelangelo, Creation of Adam
Italian, 1508-1513
Vatican, Sistine Chapel
The sixth of the "O Antiphons", for December 22 reads:  "O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust".  It asks for Christ, King of the nations, to "save the creature you fashioned from the dust" which raises images of the creation of the first humans, Adam and Eve. 

Probably the most famous image of the Creation of Adam is that by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Michelangelo's conception of the subject both embraces the iconographic tradition and departs from it.
Michelangelo, Detail of Creation of Adam
showing figure of Eve

The most traditional element is found in Adam's reclining posture.  The departures from the tradition are found, first of all, in the dynamism of the figure of God, who zooms in from the side on a cloud, surrounded by angels, and bestows life through that dramatic synapse between His extended finger and that of Adam.

And, most non-traditional of all is the figure of Eve.  She appears, tucked under God's left arm, which she clutches as she looks with curiosity (and perhaps some apprehension) toward her soon-to-be spouse.

Earlier images were more static, depicting God, generally unaccompanied, standing over the reclining figure of Adam as He calls life into it. 

Andrea Pisano, Creation of Adam
Italian, 1334-1337
Florence, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Eve did not make her appearance in creation images, except for those images that shows her creation from Adam's rib. 
Huntingfield Psalter, Creation of Eve
English, 1210-1220
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M43, fol. 7r (detail)
Richard de Montbaston, Creation of Eve
from Bible historiale
French (Paris), 1320-1330
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 322, fol. 11v
Creation of  Eve
from Weltkronik
German (Regensburg), 1355-1365
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 769, fol. 9r
Michelangelo also painted a far more conventional image of the creation of Eve, also on the Sistine ceiling.   It is far more static and traditional than the amazingly dynamic Creation of Adam.
Michelangelo, Creation of Eve
Italian, 1308-1512
Vatican, Sistine Chapel
© M. Duffy, 2011
1.  Steinberg, Leo.  "Who's Who in Michelangelo's Creation of Adam:  A Chronology of the Picture's Reluctant Self-Revelation", Art Bulletin, Vol. 74, Number 4, December 1992, pp. 552-566.  This article explores the chronology of attempts to identify the figures surrounding God the Father. 

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