My favourite painting: James Fox

'Has any artist ever conceived and executed such a daring and successful realisation of the ineffable moment when God created Man?'

The Creation of Adam, 1512, by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), approximately 9ft 2in by 18ft 8in, Sistine Chapel, Rome, Italy.

James Fox on The Creation of Adam

Has any artist ever conceived and executed such a daring and successful realisation of the ineffable moment when God created Man (Genesis 1:26-27)? As a believer, looking into Michelangelo’s painting, I see Man reclining, lethargic, unselfconscious, beautiful. Dominating his bequeathed domain in submissive immobility and with a touch of self-assurance.

‘God flies through space and time with creative energy and movement, to touch the offered hand with His own life, to awaken him to the divine purpose of relationship. In this creative moment of Western rebirth, Michelangelo shows what we are to receive from the divine spark, awakening us to the offering of being with and under God in co-creation.’

James Fox is an actor.

John McEwen on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling

Vasari gave Michelangelo, his teacher and friend, divine status: ‘The benign ruler of heaven… decided to send into the world an artist… whose work alone would teach us how to attain perfection.’

Michelangelo’s mother died when he was six and his father, a government official, briefly entrusted him to a stonecutter and his wife in Settignano. ‘If there is any good in me,’ he told Vasari, it stemmed from this happy time, when he also learned the rudiments of sculpting. At 14, he was apprenticed to the Florentine painter Ghirlandaio and the sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni. His brilliance meant he completed his education at the Court of Lorenzo de Medici.

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He was in Rome from 1496 to 1501 and, in 1508, Pope Julius II commissioned him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Pope’s private chapel, its dimensions based on the temple of Solomon. it was built by Julius’s uncle, Pope Sixtus IV, hence its name. The ceiling was painted a star-studded blue, but Julius wanted Michelangelo to replace it with pictures of the 12 Apostles. Michelangelo told him it ‘would turn out a poor affair’. He wrote to a friend: ‘He asked me why. I said, “Because they themselves were poor.” Then he gave me a new commission to do what I liked.’

The ceiling is divided into nine stories from the Book of Genesis. Michelangelo painted it with merely marginal assistance. He left God creating Adam until last. ‘so God created man in his own image,’ says the Bible, but, before Michelangelo, God had never been shown as a man, only as an aura or celestial hand.

This article was originally published in Country Life August 5, 2015.