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The Last Judgment by Michelangelo

Last Judgment by Michelangelo

 The Last Judgment by Michelangelo
1535-41, Fresco, Sistine Chapel,
Vatican, Rome

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The Last Judgment by Michelangelo Buonarroti is a large fresco painting which was executed between 1535-1541. Pope Clement VII commissioned the Last Judgment by Michelangelo for his own private chapel (Sistine Chapel) in the Vatican palace, but the pope would never see his order fulfilled for what would soon become the century's largest single fresco; Clement VII died in 1534 before work began. Clement was succeeded by Paul III Farnese, who demanded that the Last Judgment by Michelangelo be executed in rapid fashion.

Christ Militant, detail from The Last Judgment by Michelangelo

Detail of "Christ Militant"
in The Last Judgment by
Michelangelo Buonarroti

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"Terribilita" is a term that aptly describes the fresco of The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. Renaissance viewers must have been stunned by Michelangelo's commanding figure of Christ in The Last Judgment. Christ is a superbly rendered image of "Christ Militant" as he separates the saved from the damned. With a sweeping gesture of his upraised right hand the damned who are trying to rise are consigned to Hell, while with his left hand he pulls up the saved. The Virgin Mary sits quietly by her son's side, no longer open to act as intercessor for the doomed sinners. The damned are cast down by the powerful Christ figure to Charon, ferryman of the dead, and Minos, Judge of the Underworld, pagan refences both.

Detail of self portrait flayed skin of the artist, The Last Judgment by Michelangelo

with Flayed Skin

in The Last Judgment by
Michelangelo Buonarroti

According to Vasari in the Last Judgment by Michelangelo, the figure of Minos, the Judge of Souls, bears the likeness of Biaglo da Cesena, the Pope's Master of Ceremonies, who objected often about the nudity in Michelangelo's work. Similarly, Michelangelo included his own likeness in the flayed skin carried by the martyr, Saint Bartholomew, who was flayed alive.

The use of these mythological persons in the Last Judgment by Michelangelo within the Vatican itself, the primary center of Christian faith, reveals the depth of integration of the paganism of antiquity with Christian thought in Italian Renaissance art.

Brenda Harness, Art Historian

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