The Family Project > Art > Session Three: Art History and Background

Session Three: Art History and Background

Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam"

Image 3-1, 2, 3: Adam Entering Eden/Creation of Eve/Adam and Eve Being Introduced by God

Adam Entering Eden

"Adam Entering Eden"

Creation of Eve

"Creation of Eve"

Adam and Eve Being Introduced by God 

"God Introducing Adam and Eve"


Anonymous, Adam Entering Eden/Creation of Eve/Adam and Eve Being Introduced by God (12th Century)

Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily


The magnificent Cathedral of Monreale in Sicily, built in the late 1100s, is arrayed in its interior with astounding Byzantine mosaics of biblical and holy scenes. The cathedral is one of Italy’s greatest national treasures and one of its most finely decorated buildings. Three images, in particular, relate to the themes of Session 3 of The Family Project. We see that God created Adam as a solitary being in Adam Entering Eden. This was “not good,” and so in Creation of Eve, we see where Eve comes from and who it is that brings her forth. And finally, in Adam and Even Being Introduced by God, we see the Creator bringing the woman to the man in what might be described as the first marriage ceremony. Adam is raising his arm, preparing to exclaim, “There she is, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). These mosaics serve as amazing sermons to us!

Image 3-4: Creation of Adam

"Creación de Adám"


Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Creation of Adam, (1512)

Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Vatican


One of the most famous images in all of history is Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. This iconic painting depicts God reaching out His arm to Adam’s, with the center of focus being their nearly touching fingers. It’s a glorious picture, but if it’s all we see, we miss something very powerful about the painting and what Michelangelo is telling us through it. It’s happening off to the side—to the right of God. Can you see it?

There is a beautiful creature tucked tenderly and protectively under God’s left arm, with her left hand grasping on. She is not an angel, a cherub, or mere decoration for the scene. She is woman, as heavenly and as earthly as the other human created in God’s image. This scene shows us that even as God is creating Adam, He has Eve there, under His arm, waiting to complete His image in humanity.

Women, how does it make you feel when you consider that this was God’s mind and heart toward you—holding you until just the right moment in creation as His special answer to the fundamental problem of isolation? Dads, what do you think about this creature under God’s arm representing your daughter? God has handed her over to you to be her earthly protector, just as He is protecting Eve in the painting. Michelangelo’s theology was just as sharp as his artistic talent. He knew what he was communicating to the believers of his day, and to those across the millennia.

Michelangelo was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer as well as a peer and rival of Leonardo Da Vinci. Commissioned by Pope Julius II, his Sistine frescos contain over 300 figures and are centered, along the ceiling of the Chapel, on nine key parts of the Genesis story.

Image 3-5: Creation of Eve

Michelangelo's "Creation of Eve"


Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Creation of Eve, (1509)

Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Vatican


Which painting sits at the center of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling? Most would guess that it’s the famous image discussed in our previous article, The Creation of Adam. But that is not the case!

At the very center of the ceiling of this important place of worship—housed in a major hub of Christian history and experience that naysayers would say is controlled by male power and dominance—is The Creation of Eve.

She is the center of the story that Michelangelo is telling across his famous recounting* of divine history, from creation through the Flood. We must know—and be able to explain to critics who claim that it is a misogynist faith—that Christianity is extremely pro-woman.

Scripture teaches us that she was the answer to humanity’s original problem of loneliness and isolation, and that she is a unique image-bearer of God. It also tells us that God chose for His own Son to leave heaven and enter our human experience through a real, historic flesh-and-blood woman. Without question, women are central to Christianity in powerful and consequential ways.

*View of complete Sistine Chapel ceiling

Image 3-6: The Trinity Shield

"The Trinity Shield"


The Trinity Shield was and is a very interesting visual tool used by clergy to teach their congregations about the mystery of the Triune God. It explains that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all fully God by linking each of the outer circles—representing the three persons of the Trinity—to the center circle which notes denotes one God.

In other words, the Father IS fully God, the Son IS fully God and the Holy Spirit IS fully God. But the Father IS NOT the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son IS NOT the Father or the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit IS NOT the Father or the Son.

The three persons of the Trinity are all fully and completely God, one not more so than the other. But they are also importantly and characteristically unique from one another.

What does the Trinity Shield have to do our lesson? Can you make the connection? It helps us understand our own nature as humans bearing God’s image. Using the same structure, let’s consider how we might construct a “Human Shield.”

The outer circles would read “Father,” “Mother,” and “Child(ren).” The inner circle would read “Human.”

Hence, the father IS fully human, the mother IS fully human, and the child IS fully human. Each is no more and no less human than the others.

But, the father IS NOT the mother or the child, the mother IS NOT the father or the child, and the child is neither the mother nor the father.

Like the Trinity, they are all one, but also three unique beings—one flesh reflected as three distinct persons.

Each of us, as someone’s child, mother or father, represents equal but distinct parts of a complete and mysterious human trinity that reflects the Holy Trinity in creation. This is true of all people and all families. By our very existence as human beings, we point to the divine as God’s image and likenesses in the world.

One of the earliest images of the Trinity Shield can be found in the writings of Peter of Poitiers, a French professor of theology in the 12th century.

Another version of the Trinity Shield is found in an ancient Chronicle written in the early 1200s by John of Wallingford, a historian and monk.

One final example—16th century Spanish artist Jeronimo Cosida created this version.

Image 3-7: Couple Receiving a Child from the Holy Trinity

"Couple Receiving a Child from the Holy Trinity"


Anonymous, Couple Receiving a Child from the Holy Trinity

Taken from The Book Which Among Other Matters Deals with the Birth of Our Lord Christ, His Life, His Passion… vol. II, 15th century


This dramatic but little-known work offers a modest depiction of a husband and wife enjoying a time of marital intimacy. It gives us a glimpse of what a bedroom of that day would have looked like, complete with heavy blankets, curtains that wrap around the bed, and a fireplace nearby—all designed to keep out the nighttime cold. The happy husband and wife even have wrappings around their heads—encouraging warmth if not sensual desire!

As they enjoy their marital love, we see a little “special delivery” package—a baby—coming to the couple not just from God, but from the Holy Trinity. The profound eternal intimacy of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is reflected in this earthly couple as they engage in human intimacy and the creation of a new life reflecting God’s image.

This is the beauty of human sexuality—to cooperate with God in one of the most profound ways humans can. Even when conception occurs outside of wedlock or under difficult circumstances, every new life is a gift from the triune God, just like the “flying baby” in the painting!

Image 3-8: The Earthly and Heavenly Trinities


Many artists have explored the connection between the Divine Trinity and the earthly trinity of father, mother and child by depicting the Holy Family. These portrayals present the Heavenly Trinity vertically, with the Father and Holy Spirit taking the viewer’s eye down to the divine Son—who has become the fully flesh-and-blood child of an earthly family—standing between his parents, Joseph and Mary.

This creative use of visual symmetry helps us understand the connection between the earthly family of mother, father and child and the heavenly Trinity. The person of Christ is where these two realities literally intersect!

Here are a few of the most notable examples:

The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities


Bartolome Esteban Murillo, The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities (1681-1682)

Oil on canvas; National Gallery, London

"Holy Family and Trinity"


Jacob DeWit, Holy Family and Trinity (1726)

Oil on canvas, Amstelkring Museum, Amsterdam

"The Nativity with God the Father and the Holy Ghost"


Giovani Battista Pittoni, The Nativity with God the Father and the Holy Ghost (1740)

The National Gallery, London

Image 3-9: Christina’s World

"Christina's World"


Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World (1948)

Museum of Modern Art, New York City


Although it does not have the same historical and theological pedigree as most of the art we have been considering, Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World merits mention. The subject was a real woman, a neighbor of the artist’s in Maine who was stricken with polio. Wyeth looked out the window of his home one day and saw her crawling in the field, picking berries for herself. The scene was so striking that he wanted to capture it. Christina’s World is ours. We are all stricken by a devastating illness that dramatically limits our ability. We are far from our home. We yearn to be there, but it is seemingly impossible to reach over such a long distance. We gaze toward it longingly, even as we grapple with frustration over not being able to attain it. Our arms reach out desirously, but our legs are lame. “It is not good for man to be alone,” and we strive diligently to overcome our predicament. Christina’s World is a beautiful and evocative representation of what of Genesis 2:18 means.

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