The Last Judgment (Michelangelo)
|Italian: Il Giudizio Universale|
|Dimensions||1370 cm × 1200 cm (539.3 in × 472.4 in)|
|Location||Sistine Chapel, Vatican City|
The Last Judgment, or The Last Judgement (Italian: Il Giudizio Universale), is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo executed on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It is a depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. The souls of humans rise and descend to their fates, as judged by Christ surrounded by prominent saints including Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Peter, Lawrence, Bartholomew, Paul, Simon Peter, Sebastian, John the Baptist, and others.
The work took four years to complete and was done between 1536 and 1541 (preparation of the altar wall began in 1535.) Michelangelo began working on it twenty five years after having finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
At the centre of the work is a depiction of Christ, captured in the moment preceding that when the verdict of the Last Judgement is uttered. To Christ's right is his mother, Virgin Mary, who turns her head in a gesture of resignation.
Surrounding Christ in a slow rotary movement are figures, identified as the saints and the elect of God. Most notable are Saint Peter, holding the keys of Heaven and Saint Bartholomew with his own skin which is usually recognized as being a self-portrait of Michelangelo.
In the centre of the lower section are the angels of the Apocalypse who are wakening the dead to the sound of long trumpets. On the left the risen recover their bodies as they ascend towards heaven, on the right angels and demons fight over making the damned fall down to hell. Below this detail is Charon (here the work invokes Greek mythology; Charon sails the ferry down the Styx), leading the damned into hell where they are greeted by Minos (see below), whose body is wrapped in the coils of the serpent.
Some have hypothesized that Michelangelo depicted himself in the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew (see below) based on feelings of contempt Michelangelo may have had for being commissioned to paint "The Last Judgment." Michelangelo often drew himself in a way where he had lost all his power and might. He questioned over thoughts of dying and the Day of Judgement, which is seen as a reference to this work. Michelangelo was in his late sixties when he finished this painting, and it has been argued that the peeling of Bartholomew signifies the peeling of the flesh awaiting a new rebirth. The bearded figure of St. Bartholomew holding the skin was theorized to depict the satirist and erotic writer Pietro Aretino, who had tried to extort a valuable drawing from Michelangelo; this theory has been conclusively refuted because the conflict between Michelangelo and Aretino did not occur until 1545, seven years after the fresco's completion.
Apart from the technical mastery, the painting is noted for its radical departures from traditional depictions of the Last Judgment. In particular, firstly, the overall structure seems to swirl around Christ at the center, replacing the traditional pattern of horizontal layers depicting heaven, earth and hell; and secondly, the figure of Christ himself, beardless and muscular, surrounded by light, which has often been compared to the Greek sun-god Apollo. One week before commissioning the work, Pope Clement VII is known to have been studying the new heliocentric cosmology of Copernicus. There seems a real possibility that the painting is in part an allegory of the new cosmology, with Christ as the sun in the centre of the universe.
Reception and expurgation
The Last Judgment was an object of a heavy dispute between critics within the Catholic Counter-Reformation and those who appreciated the genius of the artist and the Mannerist style of the painting. Michelangelo was accused of being insensitive to proper decorum, and of flaunting personal style over appropriate depictions of content. A few years after the fresco was completed, the decrees of the Council of Trent urged a tightening-up of church control of "unusual" sacred images. In response to certain accusers, when the Pope's own Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said of the painting "it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully," and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather "for the public baths and taverns," Michelangelo worked Cesena's face into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld (far bottom-right corner of the painting) with Donkey ears (i.e. indicating foolishness), while his nudity is covered by a coiled snake. It is said that when Cesena complained to the Pope, the pontiff joked that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain.
The genitalia in the fresco, referred to as 'objectionable,' were painted over with drapery after Michelangelo died in 1564 by the Mannerist artist Daniele da Volterra, when the Council of Trent condemned nudity in religious art. The Council's decree in part reads:
Every superstition shall be removed ... all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust... there be nothing seen that is disorderly, or that is unbecomingly or confusedly arranged, nothing that is profane, nothing indecorous, seeing that holiness becometh the house of God. And that these things may be the more faithfully observed, the holy Synod ordains, that no one be allowed to place, or cause to be placed, any unusual image, in any place, or church, howsoever exempted, except that image have been approved of by the bishop.
The fresco was restored along with the Sistine vault between 1980 and 1994 under the supervision of curator of the Vatican Museums Frabrizio Mancinelli. The illustration reflects the restoration. During the course of the restoration about half of the censorship of the "Fig-Leaf Campaign" was removed. Numerous pieces of buried details, caught under the smoke and grime of scores of years were revealed after the restoration. It was discovered that the fresco of Biagio de Cesena as Minos with donkey ears was being bitten in the genitalia by a coiled snake. Another discovery is of the figure condemned to Hell directly below and to the right of St. Bartholomew with flayed skin. It was, for centuries, considered to be male until removal of the "fig leaf" showed that it was female.
|Symbols of the Passion|
- "The Last Judgement". Vatican Museums. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
- Dixon, John W. Jr. "The Terror of Salvation: The Last Judgment". Retrieved 2007-08-01.
- Steinberg, Leo (1980). "The Line of Fate in Michelangelo's Painting". Critical Inquiry 6 (3): 411–454. doi:10.1086/448058.
- Shrimplin, V. (2000). "Michelangelo and Copernicus: A Note on the Sistine Last Judgement ". Journal for the History of Astronomy 31: 156. Bibcode:2000JHA....31..156S. See also Shrimplin, V. (1999). Sun Symbolism and Cosmology in Michelangelo's Last Judgement. Kirksville: Truman State University Press.
- Reported by Lodovico Domenichi in Historia di detti et fatti notabili di diversi Principi & huommi privati moderni (1556), p. 668
- Aldersey-Williams, Hugh. "A History of the Fig Leaf". 16 July 2013. Slate. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
Media related to Sistine Chapel - Last Judgment at Wikimedia Commons
- The Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo - The Law and the Judge
- Models of wax and clay used by Michelangelo in making his sculpture and paintings