Sistine Chapel Essay, Research Paper
The Presence of God
Michelangelo’s paintings on the Sistine Chapel contain a strong presence of God. The ideas and stories of the Bible lie at the surface of the entire ceiling. All these stories are taking from the book of Genesis, which would not be possible without God. The scenes depicted are placed in a time frame of an earlier world. This period is called ante legem, and is the period before the Mosaic Law. The scenes can be analyzed in numerous ways that depend on the analyzers faith and interpretation of the beginning of time. The chapel contains nine stories divided into three trilogies: The Creation of the World, the Creation of Man, and the Story of Noah. All of these stories have a strong Godly presence, as the viewer sees the creation, progression, and, eventual, fall of man. The idea of God evolves from panel to panel by allowing the onlooker to consider God in three different situations forcing his role to change throughout each. The establishment of the vision of diverse, yet related symbols of biblical foundations presents a sense of the supernatural and divine world. The stories embody separate motifs; but, the piece is expressed as a unified whole with God being the only consistent presence in either idea or visual portrayal.
The order of the ceiling, according to the book of Genesis, should be read from the “Separation of Light from Darkness” to the “Drunkenness of Noah”, if the viewer reads in chronological order. The Creation of the World is the first out of the three trilogies. This focuses on the emergence of God’s presence, arising from his creation of the earth and the cosmic environment. “the Separation of Light from Darkness” exemplifies the physicality of God in the beginning of his worldly universe. “And God said, Let there be light, and there was light… and God divided the light from the darkness”1 This story is depicted in this scene, where Michelangelo shows God whirling in a spinning motion. The shading and use of light and dark creates a feeling of the light and dark in the midst of division. God furthers his role as worldly creator in the “Creation of Sun , Moon, and Planets” by making “two great lights; the greater light to rule the day; and the lesser one to rule the night”2. God appears to be in circular motion once again; but, in this instance, he seems as if he is circulating the newly created universe. He is, at first, transpiring from the universe, and then, turns his back to the viewer to concentrate on a new object in process of establishment. The final story of the origin of the world is the “Separation of Land from Water”. God is perceived as an ominous being, flying above the sea, and reaching out to the heavens. He appears to be extending his arms outward to a nonexistent boundary, as if he was luring the land out of the sea. Michelangelo, in the Creation of the World, demonstrates God’s limitless power by illusions of movement. The arm position, the masterful flying, and the seemingly face paced motion persuades the viewer to see a universal creator, above all fathomable beings. God appears to be traveling through all earthly dimensions, as if forcing the creation on the undeveloped world before him.
The second role of God is the Creator of Man. This section is in the center of the Sistine Chapel promoting the most concentration. This is undoubtedly strategically placed, for the importance of God’s role to the God creates man to rule his last creation of the universe. This section tells the story from the creation of the primarily pure to the emergence of a sinful world. “The Creation of Adam” delineates God giving life to Adam. This scene encompasses an intense feeling because of the naturalistic connection between Adam and God. The body language and the positioning show the events in the story. The touching fingers give a sense of the intense power traveling from God and being transported to the fingertips of Adam. Michelangelo painted this scene with a definite basis of the bible’s description, so that the viewer can actually see that “God formed man of the dust of the ground; and breathed into the nostrils the breath of life”3. God appears to be extremely powerful. The figures in the back of God and the cloud of the heavens create a figure more commanding than his creation; even though, the creation embodies a Godly essence.
The “Creation of Eve” and “The Temptation and Expulsion from Paradise” are the other stories of this second trilogy. The “Creation of Eve” seems less mystical than the “Creation of Adam” for it is arising from something already in form. This painting shows Eve stemming from Adam. The small piece of Adam is transformed by God, who has a magical role with this creation because he is changing the form of something. This mystical role shifts to a spiritual role in “The Temptation and Expulsion from Paradise”. God, the creator, has altered into God, the numinous, worldly onlooker. This scene shows that Eve “was good for food… she took the food thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat”4. This is the temptation given by the serpent, who also acts as a division line in this scene. On the left is the cause, and the right is the effect. The right side shows the shameful Adam and Eve as God “drove out the man; and placed at the east of the garden of Eden”5. This is a transitional scene of the Sistine Chapel for the role of God and man. God is now the overlooking being that is beyond the eye of man, and is , therefore, not seen by the human eye. Man transformed to a sinful being that contains character of love, hate, and foolishness, promoting more happenings with unfavorable themes.
The third section is the Story of Noah. Noah is sometimes seen as the second Adam, or Adam after having sinned. “The Sacrifice of Noah” and “The Flood” are the story of Noah’s Ark. This story has God taking his anger of the sinful man out on Noah, who was “a righteous man, blameless in his generation”6. The first scene of this section exhibits Noah obeying God’s order to build an ark, which would encompass his family and ritually cleansed animals. The second scene, “The Flood”, shows God’s anger in the form of a natural disaster, a flood. Michelangelo paints a setting of chaos, as the Noah’s family struggles to survive at all measures, which is sinful with a instinctive basis.
The last scene of the final trilogy is “The Drunkenness of Noah”. This scene arises from Noah’s discovery of wine, which foolishly drinks in excess: “he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent”7. The sons of Noah are also displayed, where three children laugh, as the one child covers his father in his foolish state. The children who treated their father as a mockery were punished. The sin of the man is counteracted in all three of these scenes of the final trilogy, as God is seen as all knowing of his eventful world.
When dividing the Sistine Chapel into an two equal parts, the role of God is the foundation of the division’s placement. The line is seen between the “Creation of Eve” and “The Temptation and Expulsion of Paradise”. This is where God changes from an active figure to a sensual spirit. The question of who or what is God is not recognized in the Sistine Chapel. The closest thing to a definition of who God is, is the description of the two roles he plays from the “Separation of Light from Darkness” to “The Drunkenness of Noah”. This description is from Michelangelo’s point of view for he is the creator. He takes on a Godlike position because the viewer can only see God as Michelangelo sees God if the Sistine Chapel is what is being examined. God can be defined in a number of manners for it is a personal belief and opinionated definition.