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 it\'s displays of unrestrained passion, overwhelming grief, or endless torment. This is what makes "The Last Judgment" such a unique and exceptional work of art.
In the spring of 1534, Michelangelo received a commission from Clement VII to paint "The Last Judgment" on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. He was also commissioned at this time to paint a "Fall of the Angels" on the entrance wall, but this second work was never executed. He had painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel some twenty eight years prior, but the style of his "The Last Judgment" would greatly differ from that of the ceiling.
Before Michelangelo could begin, there were many preparations to be made. A scaffold had to be built and the wall had to be prepared. Five paintings by Perugino and Michelangelo had to be removed. Two windows had to be walled up and Michelangelo "ordered it to be inclined forward by about half an ell toward the top, hoping in this fashion to protect his work against the accumulation of dust." (Brandes 388)
Sebastiano del Piombo had persuaded the pope that the painting would look best in oil, and the wall was therefore prepared to receive oil pigments. This delayed the beginning of the work, since Michelangelo declared oil-painting to be an "effeminate art" and insisted on painting "al fresco," as he had done with the ceiling. The wall had to be done over and Michelangelo never spoke to Sebastiano, who had once been a student of Michelangelo. (Brandes 389)
There were many previous depictions of the Last Judgment which influenced Michelangelo\'s plan for the painting. Such other works include Giotto\'s painting on the wall of the Camposanto in Pisa, Giovanni Pisano\'s sculpture on the pulpit of the San Andrea in Pistoia, and Fra Angelica\'s and Signorelli\'s frescoes in Orvieto. Finally, there is the reverse side of a medallion his old teacher Bertoldo had made for Archbishop Filipo de\' Medici. (Brandes 385)
Michelangelo began the giant painting sometime during April and May of 1536. He worked rigorously on the project until he fell from the scaffolding a few months prior to the completion of the painting and seriously hurt his leg. Following his recovery, Michelangelo returned to work on "The Last Judgment." It was completed in October of 1541 and unveiled on Christmas Day two months later. (Symonds 328)
Many were appalled to see the great amount of nudity which filled the painting. They did not feel that it was appropriate for such holy people to be depicted without clothes on. Michelangelo felt that it was the body which ascends to Heaven, not the clothes.
Unfortunately, Michelangelo\'s masterpiece only remained intact for fourteen years, at which point artists were commissioned to paint clothes on the "most beautiful nudes." (Brandes 392-394)
The central figure of "The Last Judgment" is of course, Christ. However, the Christ which appears in Michelangelo\'s "The Last Judgment," is not the typical loving, and sympathetic Christ depicted throughout the Renaissance. The fresco is dominated by Christ "as the medieval judge of the world--a giant whose might right arm is lifted in a gesture of damnation so broad and universal as to suggest he will destroy all creation, Heaven and earth alike." (Croix, Tansey, and Kirkpatrick 665) Michelangelo followed the tradition of others in having Christ at the top, with his hand raised, brighter than the rest of the angels and demons. Christ seems to have a harsh and cold expression which furthers Michelangelo\'s depiction of Christ as the Judge.
Standing closest to Jesus on the right is St. John. He is the young man who forms the counterpart to the Madonna, but he is completely in awe of Christ, while the Madonna seems to droop in some sort of dismay. She does not look toward Christ, nor toward anyone else.
The large man to the right, holding the key to heaven is St.