The Last Judgment (Michelangelo)  

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The Last Judgment is a fresco by Michelangelo on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It took four years to complete and was executed from 1536 to 1541 (preparation of the altar wall began in 1535.) Michelangelo began working on it three decades after having finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The work is massive and spans the entire wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel. 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 his saints.

The Last Judgment was an object of a heavy dispute between Cardinal Carafa and Michelangelo: the artist was accused of immorality and intolerable obscenity, having depicted naked figures, with genitals in evidence, inside the most important church of Christianity, so a censorship campaign (known as the "Fig-Leaf Campaign") was organized by Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Mantua's ambassador) to remove the frescoes. When the Pope's own Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, said "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 partly covered by a coiled snake, which appears to biting his phallus (see Minos bitten by a 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 (Lodovico Domenichi in Historia di detti et fatti notabili di diversi Principi & huommi privati moderni (1556), p. 668).

The genitalia in the fresco were covered 24 years later (when the Council of Trent condemned nudity in religious art) by the artist Daniele da Volterra, whom history remembers by the derogatory nickname "Il Braghettone" ("the breeches-painter"). A single spectator, Francesco La Cava recognized the self-portrait in 1925. Some have hypothesized that Michelangelo depicted himself in the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew based on feelings of contempt Michelangelo may have had for being commissioned to paint "The Last Judgment." While his idea gained popular support, the greater art historical community has consistently refuted this theory. 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's considered the peeling of Bartholomew is also the peeling of the flesh awaiting a new rebirth. The figure of St. Bartholomew was also theorized to depict the satirist and erotic writer Pietro Aretino, who had tried to extort a valuable drawing from Michelangelo; this theory has largely been refuted because the conflict between Michelangelo and Aretino did not occur until 1545, seven years after the fresco's completion.

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.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Last Judgment (Michelangelo)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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