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The Last Judgement | Michelangelo’s Masterpiece

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The painting represents the end of the world and the last judgement of Jesus Christ and contains around 300 characters. Christ, at the centre of the composition, with his mother and surrounded by saints, is judging the dead. The Last Judgement takes on huge dimensions, the fresco depicts figures and scenes full of horror. Reflecting the artist’s own representation, who was going through a painful crisis of faith at the time.

The Last Judgement fresco covers the east wall of the Sistine Chapel. At the time it was painted it was the largest painting in the world. It was commissioned by Pope Paul III, Michelangelo’s greatest patron in his later years. And unveiled on 31 October 1541, 29 years after the artist’s ceiling frescoes were shown to the world.

Cardinal Carafa organises a campaign (“The Vine Leaves Campaign”) to cover the genital parts of the saints. This campaign will take place after Michelangelo’s death.

How long did Michelangelo work on the Last Judgement?

Michelangelo may have been inspired by visits to homosexual bathhouses and brothels. When he painted the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, says an Italian historian.

Michelangelo worked for four years on the Last Judgement, the fresco that covers the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, where cardinals gather when a pope is elected. The Renaissance artist was accused of immorality and obscenity because the figures were nude, and several cardinals demanded at the time that intimate areas be covered with leaves to create a more biblical atmosphere.

It’s 500 years since Michelangelo Buonarroti signed the contract to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which until then was just a blue vault with a cluster of pale stars, in front of Pope Julius II.

When did Michelangelo paint The Last Judgement?

Twenty-seven years after the completion of the GENEVA, Michelangelo returns again to Rome. To the Sistine Chapel. Where with a new contract, this time before Pope Paul III, he begins to paint the judgement scene.

In 1535, Michelangelo paints the Last Judgement, and the great architect, sculptor. And also the painter is 61 years old, a different experience and outlook on life than when he was 31 years old when he painted the Sistine Chapel vault.

It is worth mentioning this detail, because during this period, special events took place in the Holy Roman Empire of the West in its Catholicism. Which profoundly marked the artist’s personality and are strongly reflected in the fresco of Judgement. Which seems more like an outburst of revenge. An unforgiving punishment, an eternal doom. An apocalypse.

Who is the judge in The Last Judgement?

It all started with Martin Luther, who in 1517 pasted his theses on the church door in Wittenberg. German Protestantism, Lutheranism, was born and spread with earthquake speed, shaking the rapacious Catholicism of Rome to its foundations. Martin Luther harshly criticised Catholic dogmas that had deviated from the original biblical teachings, he criticised the organisation of the Catholic Church, which had become extravagant and lavish, but above all he condemned its trade in indulgences. Indulgences intrigued many Catholics and triggered the spread of Protestantism among the great mass of Christians with its consequences.

In the Final Judgement of Michelangelo, the Judge is Jesus, and all over this fresco 14 meters high and 12 meters wide, all those called for the Last Judgment are rolling contorted with sin and pain into hell. Not a trace of a throne of judgment, a scales of judgment, a path, a shadow to any Paradise. The Last Judgement expressed visually by Michelangelo looks like the unleashing of a new flood, an apocalyptic one.

Henceforth papal Catholicism began to lose a large number of its supporters, who by turning to Protestantism became opponents, hostile, enemies of Rome.

The Last Judgement

Who is next to Jesus in the Last Judgment picture?

The idea that each man must ultimately pass judgement on himself was surely Michelangelo’s own – writes Andrew Graham-Dixon in his book Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. Earthly and human is this idea that every mortal must pass self-judgement in his lifetime, but for this self-judgement one needs faithful and honest parents, good and moral educators, discernment and personal determination.

In the painting of the Last Judgement, Mary, a virgin and diaphanous, stands next to Jesus, her face bowed and her gaze turned away from the judge’s attitude, looking down to the left, where the risen from the dead are crumbling in terror in hell. And some, among connoisseurs of Michelangelo’s art, have interpreted Mary’s reaction as one of figuration, nonchalance, even fear.

And yet, in this powerful fresco of the final judgment of the Son of God. Which Michelangelo painted in the grip of the events that divided Catholicism. And led to the conquest and sack of Rome by the anti-papal forces, by the followers of Lutheranism. He comes up with a personal, new idea of the Last Judgment. In addition to the seven angels with trumpets mentioned by St John in the Apocalypse, Michelangelo in his fresco adds two more angels with an open book. In which each one resurrected for judgement can read the facts of his life and judge himself.

Primary Takeaways

  • Michelangelo surrounds Jesus with angels and saints, among whom Saint Peter has two keys. Two keys! Next to it, the Apostle Bartholomew holding his own skin after his martyrdom, but whose head is a self-portrait of the painter.
  • Another detail, much commented upon in kind, is the one in the lower right corner of the Inferno in which Biagio da Cesena, Pope Paul III’s master of ceremonies, who very harshly criticised Michelangelo for this fresco, is portrayed.
  • Michelangelo took revenge on Biagio da Cesena by placing him in Hell, by entangling him with a snake that bit his genitals.

Conclusion

Michelangelo Buonarroti was, next to Leonardo da Vinci, the most important artist at the height of the Italian Renaissance. 

In 1535 Michelangelo began painting ‘The Last Judgement’ in the Sistine Chapel on the wall above the altar. The artist started from Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ and was able to render an impressive anthology of scenes. The fresco at the base depicts the dead sent after the Apocalypse and the Inferno. Represented by Caron’s boat, which transports souls. And Minos, who judges souls.

On the middle fresco you can see the angels with the instruments of judgement. The souls going to Heaven and those descending into Hell. And on the upper fresco Christ the Judge. And also the Virgin Mary, surrounded by those who have reached the Kingdom of Heaven.