In March this year I posted an item stating that Michelangelo’s portrayal of God in The Creation of Adam section of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, represented Leonardo da Vinci.
More recently there was much press coverage given to research by the scholar and author Adriano Marinazzo who hypothesised that Michelangelo painted himself as God.
Marinazzo based his judgement primarily on a sketch drawn alongside a sonnet Michelangelo had written to a friend. In an interview with Julie Tucker of the Muscarelle Museum of Art on May 12, this year, Marinazzo explained:
“In my study, I pointed out the intriguing resemblance between Michelangelo’s self-portrait silhouette and the artist’s depiction of God in “The Creation of Adam.” In Michelangelo’s self-portrait, his right arm is extended toward the ceiling’s surface to give life to the stories of the book of Genesis. The artist holds a brush that approaches the vault’s surface but does not touch it. This gesture recalls Michelangelo’s painting of God’s index, who gives life to Adam without touching him. Plus, in his self-portrait, Michelangelo represented himself with his legs crossed; this is a curious pose for somebody who is painting on a scaffolding. But Michelangelo also painted God with his legs crossed while giving life to Adam. I also pointed out that in his self-portrait, Michelangelo idealises himself. The features of his face, viewed in profile, are gentle and harmonious. But in real life, Michelangelo had rough features, characterised by a flattened nose. I concluded by pointing out that Michelangelo goes towards the surface he is painting, as God goes towards Adam. The profile of the artist is flawless, like that of God.”
Marinazzo added in another report (New York Post) that it was when he turned the sketch on its side he experienced an “epiphany” and “discovered the self-portrait looked almost identical to the God that is seen on the ceiling of the chapel.”
Michelangelo’s sketch is not unfamiliar to me. In an earlier post I compared it to one of the figures in Botticelli’s Primavera painting, presented at surface level as the man generally assumed to represent the mythological Roman god Mercury. Botticelli also applied other identities to the figure, another being the painter Filippino Lippi, one of several Florentine artists commissioned earlier to paint the walls of the Sistine Chapel. In fact, Botticelli had a field day portraying extended arms in the Primavera painting. All the figures are depicted with an arm or arms outstretched.
But the link doesn’t stop there. Michelangelo’s sketch, transformed into the figure of God in the Sistine Chapel, can be sourced back to a much earlier painting attributed to Andrea del Verrocchio in which Leonardo da Vinci is said to have contributed some of the finer detail. Notice in this painting the figure of John the Baptist with his extended right hand stretched upwards.
Another work that can be recognised as influencing Botticelli’s stretching figure in Primavera is Leonardo’s painting of The Annunciation. Leonardo is often criticised for his portrayal of the Virgin Mary with an extra-long right arm, but this was intentional. Leonardo was making a point about the figure of John the Baptist in Verrocchio’s painting as well as referring to a water feature in The Annunciation. And so in Primavera, Botticelli continued stressing the same point with his figure of Mercury, his arm extended and pointing to a water feature, just as the figure of John the Baptist, with his arm outstretched baptising Jesus with water.
Botticelli continued the outstretched arm reference in his Birth of Venus with the Hora of Spring offering cover for the naked Venus.
So in actuality, Michelangelo brought the narrative full circle and back to Leonardo to whom his pointing man relates to. Adriano Marinazzo accessed a page in the story but not the complete narrative. Decades after Michelangelo completed painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, another artist, Giorgio Vasari, provided more clues about the man with the extended arm in his painting of the Battle of Marciano on one of the long walls in the Palazzo Vecchio’s Hall of Five Hundred. The fresco covers an earlier battle scene, The Battle of Anghiari painted by Leonardo da Vinci in which he depicted another version of a man with an extended arm.
There is another feature attached to the narrative of the man with the extended arm, and that is a wing. The feature appears prominently in two places in the Baptism of Christ. It also explains why the Archangel Gabriel was given an extended wing in The Annunciation; why Mercury’s left hand-on-hip is wing-shaped; why Michelangelo’s loose sketch shows his left hand on hip; and finally, why God’s left arm is also shaped as a wing covering the woman he created, which begs the question: Who was this particular woman?
Botticelli is the child that bears the left hand of God on his right shoulder. Observe the shape of the hand. It is the same as the right hand of Mary which bears down on the shoulder of the Infant John the Baptist in Leonardo’s painting of the Virgin of the Rocks (Louvre version).
Leonardo continued the narrative even in his painting of The Last Supper. There are several references to wings and long arms, and Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio, who both figured in Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ, are depicted at at the table.
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