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Renaissance Top 48: Last Judgment (Michelangelo)

Identification

Michelangelo, Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Fresco (13,7 x 12,2 m), 1534-1541

Context

The Last Judgment altarpiece was painted twenty-five years after Michelangelo had completed the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as requested by Pope Clement VII. Originally, the mural was a display of Christ's Resurrection, but Pope Paul III thought the Last Judgment would be a better scene. The altar took Michelangelo four years to complete, but once finished, it became the centerpiece of Italian Renaissance Art. After Michelangelo had died, the Council of Trent condemned nudity in religious art and made another artist, Daniele da Volterra paint over genitalia with drapery.

Content

Michelangelo's The Last Judgment is a fresco that was painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It depicts the Second Coming of Christ and the Final and Eternal Judgment by God. Human spirits are shown rising from their graves and either ascending to Heaven or descending to Hell, portraying the separation of the blessed and the damned. Christ is located in the middle as the ultimate judge of the fate of humans, with the Virgin Mary behind him. Surrounding Christ are saints including, John the Baptist  Catherine of Alexandria, Peter, Lawrence, Paul, Bartholomew, Sebastian and many others. With The Last JudgmentMichelangelo created a new standard. His unprecedented concept of the event displays figures equalized in their nudity, stripped bare of rank. 

Image

Form

At 539.3 × 472.4 inches, Michelangelo's Last Judgment fresco covers the entire altar of the Sistine Chapel. The painting features dozens of muscular figures that defy gravity. People and objects merely float in the middle of the air without support. Michelangelo does a fantastic job of displaying foreshortening, making objects bigger in size as they appear closer. This give a three-dimensional aspect to the flat surface. The use of sfumato and chiaroscuro are evident.

Function

In the 15th century, the Sistine Chapel was used by the Pope to hold mass. To this day, the Sistine chapel is used as the location for the election of a new pope by the College of Cardinals. Michelangelo's The Last Judgment was created to be admired and serve as a reminder of the Book of Revelation. Thousands of people would visit the Sistine Chapel to see and commend Michelangelo's masterpiece. Even today nearly 5 million people every year visit the chapel to gaze upon the greatness that is The Last Judgment.