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The two Slaves for the 1505 and 1513 versions of the tomb were planned to flank niches
around the lower story, in which were to stand Victories. The figure called the Dying Slave is actu-
ally not dying but turning languidly as if in sleep; one hand is placed upon his head, the other pulls
unconsciously at the narrow bond of cloth across his massive chest. The strikingly different
companion figure, the Rebellious Slave, exerts all his gigantic strength in vain against the slender
bond that ties his arms. The new figure type created by Michelangelo in the David, and set in action
here for the first time, established a standard that influenced a great number of artists. Throughout
the late Renaissance and the Baroque, Michelangelesque heavy muscled figure was almost
universally imitated.
In 1508 Michelangelo was given a commission to fresco the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The
upper walls had been frescoed in the 1480s by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino and Signorelli.
Julius II asked Michelangelo to paint the ceiling, a flattened barrel vault more than 130 feet long. It
was the most ambitious undertaking of the entire Renaissance.
The painting represented the drama of the Creation and Fall of Man and consisted of nine
scenes, beginning with the Separation of Light from Darkness and ending with the Drunkenness of
Noah. In the vault compartments above the windows and in the lunettes around the windows are
represented the forty generations of the ancestry of Christ, and in the spandrels at the corners of the
Chapel are pictured David and Goliath, Judith and Holofernes, the Crucifixion of Human and the
Brazen Serpent.
In this intricate iconographic structure the coming of Christ is foretold in the nine scenes from
Genesis, according to the principle of correspondence between the Old and New Testaments that
was illustrated repeatedly throughout Christian art. An added element is the oak tree of the Rovere
family, to which Julius II and his uncle Sixtus IV belonged. The Rovere oak tree invaded the,
scenes of Creation and alluded poetically to the Tree of Life, which stood near the Tree of
Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and whose fruit in medieval theology was Christ.
The Fall of Man combines the Temptation and the Expulsion in a single scene, which in one
motion leads the eye from the crime to punishment, linked by the Tree of Knowledge, represented
as a fig tree. Never in history had nude figures been painted on such a colossal scale.
Michelangelo's vision of a new and grander humanity reaches its supreme embodiment in the
Creation of Adam. Instead of standing on earth as in all earlier Creation scenes, the Lord floats
through the heavens and is enveloped in the violet mantle he wears in all the scenes in which he
appears. The violet colour is required for the vestments of the clergy during Advent and Lent, the
penitential periods before the coming of Christ at Christmas and his resurrection at Easter. The Lord
is borne by wingless angels. Michelangelo's Creator for the first time makes believable the concept
of omnipotence. A dynamo of creative energy, God stretches forth his hand, about to touch with his
finger the extended finger of Adam. This image of the creative finger derives from the famous
medieval hymn "Come, Creator Spirit" sung at Pentecost, the festival of the Descent of the Holy
Spirit. In this hymn the "finger of the paternal right hand" is invoked to bring speech to our lips,
light to our senses, love to our hearts, and strength to our bodies. Adam reclines on the barren
ground below, longing for life, and love about to be instilled by this finger. Adam means "Earth"
and the finger is shown ready to be charged with the energy that will lift him from the dust and
make him a "living soul". Adam's body is the most perfect structure ever created by Michelangelo.
It embodies the beauty of Classical antiquity and the spirituality of Christianity.
The final scenes as one moves toward the altar were also the last in order of execution. The
Lord Congregating the Waters was held to foreshadow the foundation of the Church. The Creation
of Sun, Moon, and Plants shows the Lord twice, once creating sun and moon with a cruciform
gesture of his mighty arms, then seen from the rear creating plants. Just above the altar the Lord
separates the light from the darkness.
The seated prophets and sibyls show the majestic possibilities of the draped figure. Although
Michelangelo's figures were clothed they looked nude. The Persian Sibyl was represented as
immensely old, Jeremiah as grieving above the papal throne, Daniel aflame with prophecy as he
writes in a small volume, the Libyan Sibyl looking down upon the altar, at the eternal Tree of Life.
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