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Who created who
October 10, 2003 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Some believe that Michelangelo's famous work the Creation of Adam depicts God superimposed on a cross-section of a human brain. Michelangelo routinely made use of symbolism and humor in both his painting and sculpture. Was he suggesting man created God? If so, this is delicious irony.
posted by gruchall (18 comments total)

 
I'd restate the post a bit--neither of the relevant links suggest that Michaelangelo was inserting some kind of atheist prank into the Sistene chapel ceiling. The primary article's best guess is that as a Neoplatonist he appears to have believed that God is inexpressible and that any representation of God Himself is a product of the human mind. Michaelangelo's oft repeated comment that he simply chipped away the pieces of marble that did not correspond to his subject is essential Neoplatonism: art is merely a representation of a divine form, inspired by The One (=God). There's little doubt that Michaelangelo was a fairly religious person, although in his poetry he does express considerable frustration about God's apparent unwillingness to make personal appearances.

However you slice it, the comparison is pretty neat.
posted by vraxoin at 9:53 AM on October 10, 2003


I'd say God would find that idea very ironic indeed ;)
posted by Space Coyote at 10:04 AM on October 10, 2003


The message I perceive in light of this really fascinating idea says more about what God is giving Adam. As one of the links points out, Adam is already alive in the painting, and so, creation per se has already happened.

God seems to be endowing him with something. Could it be consciousness, intelligence, creativity? That which will make Adam different from the rest of the beasts? The human brain?

Bitchen.
posted by ubi at 10:08 AM on October 10, 2003


although in his poetry he does express considerable frustration about God's apparent unwillingness to make personal appearances.

Further proof that the Italians didn't eat tortillas.

Seriously though, I'll never look at that painting the same way. Cool!
posted by archimago at 10:13 AM on October 10, 2003


Was he suggesting man created God?

Or the exercise of the mind is how man connects with the divine -- the key theme of that image has never been (to me) creation, but rather connection. Man reaching towards the divine even as it reaches out towards him.

Sweet link, tho'.
posted by namespan at 10:50 AM on October 10, 2003


If you believe in God indwells you through the Holly Spirt in your soul; think the brain represents where God is in your body. The Bible says God is in your heart, yet that is a poor translation from Hebrew to English. Your heart can be replaced but w/o a working brain your dead.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:59 AM on October 10, 2003


Holly Spirit
posted by thomcatspike at 11:01 AM on October 10, 2003


Further proof that the Italians didn't eat tortillas.

Damn you. Now I need a new keyboard.
posted by jammer at 11:02 AM on October 10, 2003


Shhessh my grammar, staring at those paintings made me dizzy, probably just need to eat lunch. Wonder if Michelangelo experienced any vertigo due to him working on his back?
posted by thomcatspike at 11:28 AM on October 10, 2003


Very eloquent and learned comment vraxoin.

I would agree the Creation of Adam was not "some atheistic prank", but I am not convinced that the work was not a witticism directed against the Church. As a Neoplatonist, Michelangelo believed any representation of God was product of the human mind. This does not deny the existence of God, but it does deny the ability to define God's nature and form. Does that suggest any representation of God, even the Church's representation, was a product of the human brain? That is a concept I doubt the Church would have appreciated.

Although, after reading The Influence of Neoplatonism on Michelangelo it is clear to me that I have little understanding of the relevant art history. But whatever the meaning, the subtle anatomical reference gives me a greater appreciation for Michelangelo's work.
posted by gruchall at 11:40 AM on October 10, 2003


I once had a tshirt with the Creation of Adam printed on it. On said shirt, along the bottom, was the caption "and on the eighth day, He created the winds". And God had the little carton caption box with the text "pull my finger".

I loved that shirt.
posted by ehintz at 12:54 PM on October 10, 2003


1. AC/DC, as always, has something to say:
Who made who?
Who made you?
If he made them and they made you, who picked up the middle and who made who?
Who turned the screw?

2. And now for the serious comment: how advanced was the understanding of human anatomy by the Renaissance? Is it reasonable to think that Michaelangelo would have associated the brain with human creativity, or is that a concept that came around later?
posted by COBRA! at 12:56 PM on October 10, 2003


Is it reasonable to think that Michaelangelo would have associated the brain with human creativity, or is that a concept that came around later?

The idea that the brain was the seat of reason begins with Galen, in the 2nd Century, whose understanding of medicine and anatomy was mostly unchallenged until the 17 century. Galen wrote extensively on the brain and its supposed functions, so it seems reasonably safe to assume that Michaelangelo would have made the same association.

Galen also believed that the brain was made of sperm.
posted by vraxoin at 1:13 PM on October 10, 2003


Galen also believed that the brain was made of sperm.

Obviously, he got his data from the dissection of 13-year-old boys.
posted by COBRA! at 1:17 PM on October 10, 2003


And now for the serious comment: how advanced was the understanding of human anatomy by the Renaissance?

He loved the body and dug up corpses to disect them, iirc. You can see his love of the muscel definition in his paintings and sculptures even the woman will have some muscle mass as well.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:23 PM on October 10, 2003


Pareidolia.
posted by raygirvan at 4:49 AM on October 11, 2003


even the woman will have some muscle mass as well.

In some cases, at least, that would be explained by his use of male models for the female figures: for instance, the sketch for the Libyan Sibyl.
posted by raygirvan at 5:05 AM on October 11, 2003


If he was a neoplatonist, then he basically believed god was "mind" - the divine intellect, or Nous, was a common conception of god for the greeks (Thales, Anaxagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus). If the idea that the brain was the seat of mind in the human was already fairly well established (& I think it was argued even back in later ancient greece - some said heart, some said brain) then inserting the reference would be in keeping with his professed beliefs.
posted by mdn at 7:30 AM on October 11, 2003


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