Information on Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment"

by Scott Cornell

"The Last Judgment" is painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.

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"The Last Judgment" is a fresco painting on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel that depicts the second coming of Jesus Christ. According to the website Art and the Bible, it was painted over seven years (1534-1541) by Michelangelo Buonarroti, approximately three decades after he completed the iconic ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It can still be seen today.


"The Last Judgment" is a powerful piece of work that depicts the second coming of Jesus Christ, as interpreted by Michelangelo from Revelation 15:6. Jesus and his mother, Mary, are central figures. Angels near the middle of the painting blow horns to awaken the dead. To the left, the chosen are escorted into heaven. However, those on the right side of the painting are damned to hell. According to Art and the Bible, the scale, technique and drama of the painting is characteristic of Renaissance art.


The piece is painted in a way that demonstrates the power and horror involved in the condemnation of man. Mary is painted so that she's turned away from her son, unable to watch his actions. According to Rome.Info, the painting is a testament to Michelangelo's sense of religious and social justice. It's also believed to be the artist's way of judging the critics who had discredited his work on the chapel's ceiling.


Jesus and Mary were the only characters clothed in the original painting. The rest were naked. According to Italian Renaissance Art, it was later decided that works of art in sacred places, such as the Sistine Chapel, had to be modest in nature. A pupil of Michelangelo, Daniele da Volterra, was commissioned to cover the naked bodies of the figures with loincloths and veils. More overpainting was added over the next two centuries.


Michelangelo's painting initially put him in some hot water with members of the Roman Catholic Church and others in power. For example, according to Mood Book, it triggered a dispute between the artist and Cardinal Carafa over the immorality and intolerable obscenity of the piece's naked figures. This eventually led to the figures being painted over. The work was also heavily criticized in similar ways by Biagio da Cesena, the papal master of ceremonies.

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