Michelangelo, Creation of Adam

Michelangelo, Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City


I skipped my computer classes
on Layout & Graphic Design,
typography lectures on inches,
picas and points to be here—
all 300 seats sold out at Stanford's
Annenberg Auditorium for Persegati's
lecture of Michelangelo Rediscovered—
Restoration of the Sistine Chapel Frescoes.

Ooohs & Aaahs rise from the audience
as the Vatican Museum's secretary
shows side-by-side slides of ceiling
scenes and The Last Judgment before
and after cleaning— naked genitals
covered with loincloth by later restorers,
muscle tones of the medallion bearers
hidden by bees' wax and blackened glue.

With layers of dirt and soot gone,
the prophets and sibyls are glowing
again, after removal of salt grime,
the crimson of Jonah's tunic swirls
with God's gathering of the waters,
and from centuries of candle smoke,
a blond angel emerges with her flaming
sword luminous over the Tree of Life.

The secretary shows a film of himself
going up the scaffold to watch restorers
apply ammonium bicarbonate to clean
the fresco scenes of Creation, and
we share his surge of awe seeing
those original flesh tones of God's
finger and Adam's, measuring with a ruler
the distance between them— 3/4 of an inch.

And I've wondered about that fraction—
the Trinity above the quaternary
of earth, 19 mm, 4.5 picas, 54 points,
checked tables of square & cube roots,
chapter & verse in Genesis, Psalms
and Plato's Timaeus that may have
inspired him, and I think I've got it—
it's the digitus, a finger's breadth

used by the Romans as a measure equal
to 1/16 of the pes or 3/4 of an inch.
And the verb digit means to point—
God creating Adam in his own image,
a point as the seed of manifestation.
Did the restorers remove those spiral whorls
they thought were dirt— Michelangelo's
fingerprint pointing to the measureless?

            — Peter Y. Chou
                 Palo Alto, 10-24-1992

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