Join now to read essay Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo de Buonarotti, a distinguished painter, sculptor, architect, and poet of Italy was born in 1475 in the territory of Arezzo, in Tuscany. His time was of a new age of enlightenment where artistic and inventive freedom was beginning to come back into the forefront, Michelangelo stands as the archetype of the Renaissance genius, with a talent that transcends time and continues to influence and inspire contemporary artists. Michelangelo grew up and was first exposed to stone carving, “he regarded himself first and foremost as a sculptor.” (FIERO) Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II Della Rovere in 1508 to repaint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel frescoed earlier by Piero Matteo dAmelia with a star-spangled sky. Buonarroti, who had always regarded himself as a sculptor, would now have to perfect the art of fresco. Michelangelos lament that “painting is not my art” proved a hollow objection since the popes stubbornness was greater than his. However, like all commissions that Michelangelo initially resisted, once he reconciled himself to the task, he threw himself into it with unrestrained energy. For four years, from 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo struggled with the manifold difficulties of painting nearly ten thousand square feet of a highly irregular, leaky vault. “Michelangelo inherited an enormous project more than three decades later, in 1547 having proved himself, among his other accomplishments, the most inventive and influential architect of the century.” (BECK) He painted the Last Judgment over the altar, between 1535 and 1541, being commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese.
The Last Judgment, which Michelangelo finished in 1541 was the largest fresco of the Renaissance, it depicts Judgment Day. The entire ceiling and the altar wall were done in pure fresco. “Michelangelo declared that he would only do it in fresco, and that oil painting was a womans art and only fit for lazy well-to-do people.” (DeVECCHI) This fresco covers the entire altar wall. It is filled with angels, demons, and people. The people in this fresco appear to be either going to heaven or hell. The figure in the middle appears to be Christ because he has a bright light that surrounds him. There are also many references to his crucifixion on the fresco. Michelangelo painted the figures to be both nude and some are clothed. Those figures that are nude are anatomically rendered and have that perfected body much like the ancient Greeks and Romans. Michelangelo uses a wide variety of colors both vibrant and dull. In my opinion, this depiction of the Last Judgment is beautifully rendered and very stylized.
The idea of commissioning an enormous fresco, the largest ever painted in that century, depicting the Last Judgment, was probably suggested to Clement VII by the traumatic events that were undermining the unity of Christians at the time. After the popes death, on September 25, 1534, and only two days after Michelangelos arrival in Rome, his successor, Paul III Farnese confirmed the commission to Michelangelo, and in April 1535, scaffolding was put up in front of the altar wall. Even before its official unveiling, the Judgment became the target of violent criticisms of a moral character. All that had happened in the church in the years that preceded the Judgment, including the Reformation and the Sack of Rome, had a direct influence on the works conception: painted on the altar wall, the Last Judgment was to represent humanity face to face with salvation.
The first impression I have when faced with the Last Judgment is that of a truly universal event, at the center of which stands the powerful figure of Christ. His raised right hand compels the figures on the left hand side, which are trying to ascend, to be plunged down towards Charon and Minos, the Judge of the Underworld while his left hand is drawing up the chosen people on his right in an irresistible current of strength. Excluded are the two upper lunettes with groups of angels bearing in flight the symbols of the Passion (on the left the Cross, the nails and the crown of thorns; on the right the column of the scourging, the stairs and the spear with the sponge soaked in vinegar). Next to Christ is the Virgin, who turns her head in a gesture of resignation: in fact, she can no longer intervene in the decision, but only await the result of the Judgment. The Saints and the Elect, arranged around Christ and the Virgin, also anxiously await the verdict. Some of them can be easily recognized: St Peter with the two keys, St Laurence with the gridiron, St Bartholomew with his own skin which is recognized as being a self-portrait of Michelangelo, St Catherine of Alexandria with the cogwheel and St Sebastian kneeling holding the arrows. In the center of the lower section are the angels of