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Michelangelo Buonarroti’s “The Last Judgement”

The Last Judgement- Short History

Out of all the works of art, what made “The Last Judgement” stand out from the rest? Some of the most compelling reasons would likely be that it was created by the one and only Michelangelo Buonarroti. He was among the most highly regarded artists of his era. And it was part of the religious (Christian) genre that depicted scenes out of the Bible. Or perhaps Michelangelo’s reputation as the greatest master of male nude models in which case “The Last Judgement” would serve as the ultimate flex in more ways than one.

Michelangelo Buonarroti

Be it as it may Pope Clement VII himself would commission a great artistic project from Michelangelo to decorate one of the walls of the Sistine Chapel as Christianity has had a remarkable impact on Europe (and the world in general) for centuries.

Eventually, Buonarroti accepted the challenge and the rest is history. Fast forward a bit more than 4 years from the beginning of the painting process and this huge – and scandalous –  masterpiece was complete. 

Taking up the entire altar wall of the chapel, the artist’s work depicts the second coming of Christ and contains over 300 different muscular… And in the beginning numerous nude  figures. Rather than depicting just one small scene, the fresco tells a story in different phases. The resurrection of the dead. Passing the judgement, salvation of those deemed worthy and accepted to heaven. Damnation of doomed souls who are sent to hell. Additional scenes also depicted and a special thing to point out here -how symmetrically different events are placed on this fresco. For example salvation on our right and condemnation on our left. Both at the bottom corners. The Christ at the very centre of the painting. Just like in ‘The Last Supper‘. In the centre of the lower part are the trumpet-blowing angels of the Apocalypse who are wakening the dead. And these are only a few things to point out in this detailed work of art.

It also acts as an everlasting reminder to the Pope. That his role as a shepherd of souls is temporary. In the end he will also have to answer to his Lord.  The fresco depicts a man believed to symbolise Pope handing keys back to Christ as if agreeing that his role on this earth has also come to an end.

Michelangelo’s work

When looking at Michelangelo’s work now, you might not even notice or be aware of it, but just barely after his fresco was finished, another artist was asked to censor certain parts. Mainly covering genitals with clothing because the original was considered to be obscene.

Imagine painting it all by hand and all by yourself, showing this as the ultimate proof of your skill and talent, only to have it altered shortly after to fit into a certain moral codex. This makes the whole story rather contradicting. All because “The Last Judgement” was, and still is, considered to be a masterpiece and got seemingly approved by the church at a time. The possible explanation is that it was finished under the rule of a different pope, hence the changes.

A fresco painting can go through a lot, can’t it? Even if it’s on a renaissance Chapel wall. 

This graphical interpretation of the Judgement Day was originally meant only for small, well-educated audiences. People who knew how to appreciate it… but life quite often has its own plan. Whether he intended it or not, Michelangelo managed to immortalize himself in the eyes and minds of thousands of people throughout the world. His works have become exceptionally famous and are visited by countless people until this day.

Fresco painting – short history

Masaccio, Cimabue, Fra Angelico, and Correggio, among a number of other artists from the late 13th to the mid-16th centuries, produced magnificent frescoes in the Italian Renaissance. Michelangelo created the most renowned frescoes of all time in the Sistine Chapel and Raphael created the Vatican murals.

By the mid-16th century, fresco had been largely replaced by oil painting, although it was briefly used again in the 20th century by Mexican muralists, as well as Francesco Clemente.

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