October 10, 1990

An Interpretation of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam Based on Neuroanatomy

Author Affiliations

From St John's Medical Center, Anderson, Ind.

From St John's Medical Center, Anderson, Ind.

JAMA. 1990;264(14):1837-1841. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450140059034

THE BRILLIANT Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti painted magnificent frescoes on the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, laboring from 1508 to 1512. Commissioned by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo performed this work himself without assistance. Scholars debate whether he had any guidance from the Church in the selection of the scenes, and what meaning the scenes were to convey. In the fresco traditionally called the Creation of Adam, but which might be more aptly titled the Endowment of Adam, I believe that Michelangelo encoded a special message. It is a message consistent with thoughts he expressed in his sonnets. Supreme in sculpture and painting, he understood that his skill was in his brain and not in his hands. He believed that the "divine part" we "receive" from God is the "intellect." In the following sonnet, Michelangelo explains how he creates sculpture and painting and how, I believe, God himself gave man the gift of intellect1: