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Thursday 11 May 2017

Domenico Cunego’s etching (1781) of Michelangelo’s fresco, “Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants” (1511)

Domenico Cunego (1727–1803) et al.
“Creation of the Sun, Moon and Plants” or as inscribed on the plate: “Germinet terra herbam virentem” (Gen. Cap. I. Vers 11: [God said] “Let the earth bring forth green grass” [and it came to pass]) and “Fecitque Deus duo luminaria magna” (Gen. Cap. I. Vers.16: “God made the two great lights” [the greatest to rule in the day, the least to rule in the night, and the stars]), 1781, from the series of 40 plates first published by Gavin Hamilton (1723–98) in “Schola Italica Picturae” after Michelangelo Buonarroti’s (1475–1564) fresco by on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The British Museum advises that the plates for Hamilton’s publication were later sold to Piranesi in 1780 and passed for publication to Giovanni Volpato (1740–1803). As this plate is dated 1781, I presume that it is from the Volpato edition. (

Etching and engraving on laid paper trimmed with margins around the image borderline.
Size: (sheet) 29.1 x 46 cm; (image borderline) 25.3 x 43.3 cm
Lettered below the image borderline: (left) 'Michael Angelus Bonarota in Sacetto Sistine /
Germinet terra herbam virentem Gen. Cap. I Vers 11”; (centre) “Romae apied Dom Curego; (right) “Dom. Cunego sculp. Romae 1781 / Fecitque Deus duo luminaria magna Gen. Cap. I, Vers.16”

The Harvard Art Museums offer a description of this print from a later (?) state (note my attribution to a later state is based entirely upon the font used for the publication details):

Condition: Excellent impression trimmed with margins around the image borderline. The sheet has light age-toning, but is otherwise in good condition (i.e. there are no tears, holes, folds, losses or significant stains).

I am selling this strong etching by one of the great masters of interpretative printmaking for the total cost of AU$194 (currently US$142.92/EUR131.45/GBP110.60 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.
If you are interested in purchasing this beautifully executed print based on Michelangelo’s famous fresco, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This image fascinates me for all the wrong reasons and I had to check the source image—Michelangelo’s fresco—to see whether Cunego had made a mistake … but he hadn’t.
For those who believe that the legendary Michelangelo could never make a mistake, please forgive me, but from my way of looking he has made an error of judgement in this composition.

Let me explain …

One of the fundamental rules of achieving spatial depth in a composition is to ensure that key subjects overlap each other to ensure that a viewer “knows” where each subject lies in relation to the others. For instance, Michelangelo presents the figure of God the Father with his hands gesturing in two different directions as being clearly in front of his accompanying angels by God’s form overlapping the small helpers. Beyond this example of overlapping, however, I see many curious points on silhouette edges where forms are tangentially, or almost tangentially, abutted (i.e. lightly “touching” each other) rather than the subject in front overlapping the one further behind. Note for instance how the head of the closer angel accompanying God “touches” the circle of the sun and how God’s hand almost touches the sun. Note also how the closer angel’s finger tangentially abuts the right foot of the flying figure shown on the left—a second view of God the Father. Actually the more that I look at this composition the more uneasy I am with it regarding tangential junctions, as I now see that the tail end of the left figure’s drapery almost touches the sun and that God’s outstretched left arm tangential connects with the head of the angel in shadow on the right.

Of course, Michelangelo would have very good reasons to dispose the figures in this arrangement anyway that he liked. Moreover, “rules” are meant to be broken (or so I’m told) but, for me, this composition has me wondering what Michelangelo was thinking.

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