Last Judgment

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The Last Judgment

Michelangelo was one of the greatest artists of all time. He excelled in architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry, and engineering. He was a true Renaissance man who lived a long emotional life. In painting "The Last Judgment," Michelangelo was able to incorporate all that he had learned about the human body. He was able to show the way the body moved, as well as its displays of unrestrained passion, overwhelming grief, or endless torment. This is what makes "The Last Judgment" such a unique and exceptional work of art.

The Last Judgment is a canonical fresco by the Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo executed on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Rome, Italy. It is forty-eight feet by forty-four feet masterpiece. The work took four years to complete and was done between 1536 and 1541 (preparation of the altar wall began in 1535.) Michelangelo began working on it some twenty years after having finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Michelangelo returned to the Sistine Chapel as a sixty year old man in 1535 when he was commissioned by Pope Paul III (pontificate 1534 – 1549) to paint the Altar Wall. If his ceiling celebrates the creation of man, his Last Judgement, depicts the end of the world and the judgment that is said to follow.

Michelangelo having been commissioned the wall looked for a long time at the big wall he was supposed to paint. He wanted to be sure to avoid some of the problems the ceiling frescoes had given him twenty-five years earlier. The wall had two windows. He had them blocked up so he would have a nice, empty surface. Next he worried about dampness seeping through from outside. That might spoil his painting. He decided not to paint the actual chapel wall but to build a second one of dried bricks in front of it and to leave a space between the two walls for ventilation. And to keep the dust from collecting on it he gave the new wall a slant. It slopes inward as it rises and overhangs at the top about a foot.

At first Michelangelo planned to paint with oil paints and he had his helper Sebastiano del Piombo give the whole wall a coat of mortar with resin to seal it. But later he changed his mind and ordered him to chip his primer away. Michelangelo was an experienced fresco painter now and who knows what disagreeable surprises oils might give him. He would stick to fresco and would apply his own layer of sand and lime each day as he went. These preparations took a year. Meanwhile he worked on his characters . He began to paint in June 1536.

It is said that Michelangelo fell off the scaffolding once when he was alone in the chapel. Though he was badly hurt he dragged himself home and crawled into bed in great pain. He refused to let anyone see him and wouldn’t open the door when they knocked. Finally, one of his friends, a doctor made his way up by a secret way from room to room until he found Buonarroti, who was in a desperate condition. Then his friend refused to go away or leave his side until he was better.

The wall was unveiled on Halloween, 1541. He was 66 years old. It was twenty-nine years since the unveiling of the ceiling frescoes. The great painting scared people. Pope Paul III, who commissioned it, is supposed to have exclaimed when he saw it the first time: “Lord, please don’t charge me with my sins when you come on Judgment Day!” This depiction of the second coming of Christ and the final judgment of humanity is not only a fresco but a beautiful piece of poetry. This painting is a grim reminder to the parishioners as well as the clergy (including the pope) that ultimately they too would be judged at the end of time. This painting depicts Christ surrounded by the saints and angels, judging all the souls of the human race as they rise or descend to heaven and hell where they will stay for all eternity. Most of the saints surrounding Jesus were martyrs and Michelangelo depicted them each holding the weapon or...
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