The iconic image of the Hand of God giving life to Adam
The Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512, is one of the most renowned artworks of the High Renaissance. Central to the ceiling decoration are nine scenes from the Book of Genesis of which The Creation of Adam is the best known, the hands of God and Adam being reproduced in countless imitations. The complex design includes several sets of individual figures, both clothed and nude, which allowed Michelangelo to fully demonstrate his skill in creating a huge variety of poses for the human figure, and have provided an enormously influential pattern book of models for other artists ever since.
The sacrifice of Noah after the Flood (in context, before restoration). This picture is thought by some to represent The sacrifices of Cain and Abel.
Sacrifice of Noah. (Post-restoration. Detail)
Prophets and Sibyls
The Prophets of Israel and the Sibyls of the pagan world foretold the coming of the Messiah. Both have been included by Michelangelo as a sign that the Messiah (Jesus Christ) was to come not just for the Jews but also for the Gentiles (non-Jewish people).
The ancestors of Jesus are listed in the Biblical books of Matthew and Luke. This is the first known large painted series, although they were often shown in stained glass. See Tree of Jesse. Although each picture has a title, the characters cannot be positively identified.
Achim / Eliud
Asa / Jehosaphat / Joram
Azor / Sadoch
Eleazar / Mathan
Hezekiah / Manasseh / Amon
Jacob / Joseph
Jesse / David / Solomon
Josiah / Jechoniah / Sheatiel
Rehoboam / Abijah
Salmon / Boaz / Obed
Uzziah / Jotham / Ahaz
Zerubbabel / Abiud / Eliakim
Detail of the Achim lunette.
Detail of the Asa, Jehosaphat and Joram lunette
Detail from the Eleazar lunette
Detail of the Ezechias lunette.
Detail of the Salmon lunette.
Above the windows are a series of families with young children. The children may represent particular children who are mentioned in the Bible, such as Isaac and Samuel. The composition of many of the pictures is similar to that found in depictions of the Holy Family resting on the Flight into Egypt.
In the Salmon spandrel a woman is making a garment while her child looks on.
In the Ozias spandrel a young child is attempting to breast feed from his exhausted-looking mother, who clasps a round loaf in her hand.
Jesse spandrel, before restoration
Jesse spandrel, after restoration. In this spandrel, a young woman who may represent the Virgin Mary gazes out with a prophetic expression. The details of her eyes were removed in the recent restoration.
The Ezechias spandrel shows a small child gazing out of the picture.
The Ignudi that surround the narrative scenes may show the perfection of Humanity, or may represent angels. They were often imitated by other artists.
Above the Erithraean Sibyl
To the right of "Isaiah"
Above the Cumean Sibyl
The great muscularity of the lower back of this figure suggests that he was a stonemason.
Above Jeremiah. This figure is one of the most reproduced on the ceiling.
Above Libyan Sibyl
The shields represent violent episodes in the history of Israel.
Massimo Giacometti, The Sistine Chapel, a collection of essays on aspects of the chapel, its decoration and the restoration of Michelangelo's frescoes, by Carlo Pietrangeli, André Chastel, John Shearman, John O'Malley S.J., Pierluigi de Vecchi, Michael Hirst, Fabrizio Mancinelli, Gianluigi Colallucci, and Franco Bernabei. 1984, Harmony Books ISBN0-517-56274-X