The Last Judgment by Michelangelo
The Last Judgment, 1537-1541
Fresco, 1370 x 1200 cm
Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

The Last Judgment is a fresco by Michelangelo on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It took nine years to complete. Michelangelo began working on it three decades after finishing the ceiling of the chapel.

The work is massive and spans the entire wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel. It was executed from 1537 to 1541. The Last Judgment is a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the apocalypse. The souls of humans rise and descend to their fates, as judged by Christ surrounded by his saints.

The Last Judgment was an object of a heavy dispute between Cardinal Carafa and Michelangelo: the artist was accused of immorality and intolerable obscenity, having depicted naked figures, with genitals in evidence, inside the most important church of Christianity, so a censorship campaign (known as the "Fig-Leaf Campaign") was organized by Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Mantua's ambassador) to remove the frescoes. When the Pope's own Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, said "it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully," and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather "for the public baths and taverns," Michelangelo worked the Cesena's semblance into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld (far bottom-right corner of the painting) with ass's ears {i.e.foolishness} while his nudity is covered by a coiled snake. It is said that when Cesena complained to the Pope, the pontiff responded that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain.

The genitalia in the fresco were later covered by the artist Daniele da Volterra, whom history remembers by the derogatory nickname "Il Braghettone" ("the breeches-painter").




Copyright © 2009 Arts Preservation Society. All Rights Reserved. Text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
Art images are public domain and displayed under conditions of U.S. District Court ruling Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., 36F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).