Why they wanted to destroy Michelangelo’s famous fresco ” the Last judgment»
In the 1500s, there was a huge task: to visualize the scene of the Last Judgment and, moreover, to do it in the Sistine chapel, the chapel of the papal court, now an outstanding monument of the Renaissance. No artist in sixteenth-century Italy was better prepared for this task than Michelangelo. And he created a masterpiece…
History of creation
In 1533, Michelangelo worked in Florence on various projects in San Lorenzo for Pope Clement VII. On September 22 of this year, the artist went to San Miniato to meet the Pope. Perhaps it was then that the Pope expressed a desire for Michelangelo to paint the wall behind the altar of the Sistine chapel on the theme of “the Last judgment”. He completed his monumental work in 1512-and this cemented his reputation as the greatest master of the depiction of human nature.
The last judgment was one of the first works of art that Paul III commissioned after his election to the papacy in 1534. Paul III sought to eliminate the Protestant reformation and confirm the legitimacy of the Catholic Church and the Orthodoxy of its doctrines. Fine art played a key role in achieving these goals, including a message that he sent to his circle by ordering an image of the Last judgment.
The decorative depiction of the story begins with God’s creation of the world and his Covenant with the people of Israel (represented in the old Testament scenes on the ceiling and South wall) and continues with the earthly life of Christ (on the North wall). The scene of the Last Judgment concludes the story. The papal court and representatives of the Church occupy the center between the scenes with Christ and his second coming. The entire mural is dominated by the human figure, almost always represented completely Nude. The bodies are presented with great expressiveness and power.
The main figures and objects of the mural
Despite the density in the layout of the figures, the artist clearly organized the composition into tiers and quadrants with subgroups and significant figures that help to perceive complex scenes. Michelangelo used the symbolism of scales used to weigh souls – in their likeness, the composition rises from the left and falls from the right.
1. Christ is the reference point of this complex composition. Being a powerful, muscular figure, he steps forward in a curving gesture. On the left is the “cursed one”. On the right – “blessed”. Under his raised hand, as if under reliable protection, is the virgin Mary.
2. Directly below Christ is a group of wingless angels. They call the dead to rise with such force that their cheeks swell with the effort. It seems that observers can even hear the sounds being made. At this time, two other angels hold open books with records of the deeds of the resurrected. The angel with the book of the damned firmly tilts it down to show the damned that their sad fate is justly based on their misdeeds.
3. In the lower left corner of the composition, the dead come out of their graves, discarding their funeral robes. Some rise effortlessly, drawn by an invisible force, while others are helped by angels. This detail confirms the doctrine disputed by Protestants: prayer and good works, not just faith and divine grace, play a dominant role in the Last judgment.
4. On the right side of the composition (to the left of Christ), demons drag the damned to hell, and angels in battle defeat those who try to escape their sad fate. One of the figures is slain by an angel and pulled by a demon: a bag of money hangs from his chest. His sin is clear – greed. Another figure-the prototype of the sin of pride-dares to fight back, challenging the divine decision.
5. Charon-the carrier of the souls of the dead-drives the damned to the shores of hell, and in the lower right corner stands the downtrodden Minos-the legendary king of the” capital ” of Ancient Crete-Knossos. His own carnal sinfulness is indicated by a serpent. He stands on the very edge of hell.
6. The symbolism of Michelangelo’s own self-portrait in the fresco is very interesting. In the center of the mural, Saint Bartholomew is depicted holding a torn human skin. There is a hypothesis that Michelangelo depicted the moment of the Last judgment, when Christ decides the fate of the artist (the Christ located in the center of the view is directed exactly at the image of Michelangelo). In the Christian tradition, Saint Bartholomew was associated with miracles of mass change both during his life and after his death. A well-known legend about him says: once his body was thrown into the sea and washed ashore. Then the local Bishop ordered the men to bring the body. But it was too heavy. And then the Bishop ordered the children to bring the body, which easily coped with the task. The fact that sinless children were able to lift up the body symbolizes that the real weight is with sins. It is not without reason that contemporaries dubbed Michelangelo “divine” for his ability to compete with God himself in shaping the ideal body. Despite his fame, the artist often bemoaned his youthful pride, which led him to focus on the beauty of art rather than on saving the soul. And here, in his most monumental work, Michelangelo admits his sin and expresses the hope that Christ will have mercy on him and take him to Paradise.
7. Left: John the Baptist, right: Saint Peter. Michelangelo’s fresco is primarily about the triumph of Christ. The Kingdom of heaven dominates the dark sides. The chosen and the faithful surround Christ. They form large figures in the foreground and extend far into the depth of the picture. Especially significant are the images of John the Baptist and St. Peter, which surround Christ on the left and right. John can be identified by the camel’s skin, and Saint Peter can be identified by the keys that he returns to Christ. His role as Keeper of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven is complete.
Assessment of the company
Like Dante in his great epic work, the divine Comedy, Michelangelo sought to create an epic picture worthy of the greatness of the plot. He used metaphor and allusion to decorate the ceiling of the chapel. Rumors of the creation of the masterpiece quickly spread everywhere and led to multiple debates about the merits and abuses of religious art.
1. Some favourably perceived the mural as the pinnacle of artistic achievement. Most rated this work as a masterpiece. They saw a special figurative style of Michelangelo with his complex poses, extreme angles and powerful muscles.
2. Others considered it the epitome of anti-religious and called for its destruction. This side was literally shocked – first of all, the Nude (although this is part of the plot, because the resurrected will go to heaven naked, as created by God). Critics also objected to distorted postures, breaks with the pictorial tradition of the Bible (beardless Christ, wingless angels), and the appearance of mythology (figures of Charon and Minos). All the angels who blow the trumpets are in the same group, whereas in the Book of Revelation they were sent to the “four corners of the earth”. Christ does not sit on the throne as indicated in the Scriptures. Such draperies, which were painted by Michelangelo, were depicted as being blown by the wind. But according to the Scriptures, the weather has no place on the day of judgment. Critics have seen in these items is a distraction from the spiritual message of the murals. Michelangelo was accused of not feeling proper decency about nudity and other aspects of the work, and of achieving artistic effect by completely not following the biblical description of the event. There was even a censorship campaign (known as the” Fig leaf Campaign”) aimed at destroying the” indecent ” mural. When the Pope’s master of ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, saw the painting, he declared that “it is a shame that naked bodies are depicted in such a sacred place, in such an obscene form” and that this fresco is not for the Pope’s chapel, but rather “for public baths and taverns”.
Despite the resentment of a particularly conservative part of society, Michelangelo’s reputation and status allowed The artist to keep his masterpiece unchanged. Disputes continued for many years, until 1564. However, in the end, a compromise was reached. Soon after the artist’s death in 1564, Daniele da Volterra was called to the chapel. His task was clear – to cover the obscene parts of the figures with pieces of drapery. This was important in order to ennoble the famous mural and eliminate any disputes about the religious nature of the image.
Michelangelo’s “last judgment” is one of the most monumental and striking representations of this subject in the history of Christian art. More than 300 muscular figures in an infinite variety of dynamic poses fill the wall to the brim. Every day, the Last judgment in the Sistine chapel is visited by 25,000 people! Despite the changes in the mural after the artist’s death, the painting has not lost its expressive power.