Isaiah, by Michelangelo

Seen by Michelangelo as relatively youthful, with a poet's face ravaged by profound thought, Isaiah is the greatest prophet at once of the Virgin Birth and of the Passion, and in terms which recall frequently the doctrine of the Tree of Life. "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel," the Lord said to Isaiah; he prophesied, "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him," and also "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground... he is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ... Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. . . But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. . . ." Michelangelo's Isaiah turns his face from the Deluge; the Lord said to him, "For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee."

Wrapped in bitter meditation, Isaiah closes his book and turns in a majestic movement, about to drop his left hand on which his head had apparently been propped, as he listens to his attendant putto, who points toward the Fall of Man, and the locks of his prematurely gray hair rise on his head. The great blue cloak billowing from his shoulders recalls that of The Delphic Sibyl but shows a brighter green lining, turned out over the left arm and shoulder. Behind the prophet's right shoulder the cloak is blown against the putto so as to reveal the shape of his leg through the cloth. The sleeve colors are particularly hard to account for in naturalistic terms. The right sleeve seems yellow, but is actually made up of changing tones of white, yellow, and gray, while the left is a pale lavender with some yellow and some lavender lights. A marvelous play of yellow and lavender tones shimmers through the tunic below the cloak, with shadows of deep gray. These colors harmonize richly with the tanned face, hands, and feet.