What Was Michelangelo's Last Judgment About?


Quick Answer

Michelangelo’s Last Judgment depicts Christ deciding the fate of humanity. It is Michelangelo’s interpretation of the Harrowing, an event in which Christ allows some souls into heaven and consigns others to hell. The dead rise to the sound of angels’ trumpets as the Archangel Michael reads from the books of the saved and the damned. Angels cast the damned into the underworld while the righteous ascend to heaven and rejoice.

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According to Italian-Renaissance-Art.com, although Michelangelo clearly works from biblical texts, the execution of the Last Judgment illustrates his own original intent. For instance, rather than portraying scenes of torture in his portraits of martyred saints, he chooses instead to depict them holding the instruments of their martyrdom. In addition to biblical scenes, Michelangelo also depicts scenes from mythology, license granted him by his patron Pope Paul III, as well as robust human figures, all of whom are nude.

Out of respect for its display in the Sistine Chapel, a student of Michelangelo’s, Daniel da Volterra, was commissioned to paint loincloths and veils over some figures in the fresco, earning him the nickname “the maker of breeches.” Over the next two centuries, more over-painting was added for the same reason. During the chapel’s restoration in the 1980s and 1990s, however, only Volterra’s additions were saved.

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