The Last Judgment (Michelangelo)

The Last Judgment (Michelangelo)

Artist Michelangelo

Date 1534-41

Movement Late Renaissance

Medium Fresco

Dimensions heights up to 44′

Located at Sistine Chapel, Vatican City


After a turbulent period during in which the Hapsburg army sacked Rome, Alessandro Farnese was instated as the papal authority and chose Paul III as his name; Paul III wished to revamp the Church’s power, especially in the midst of the Protestant Reformation in Northern Europe; as such, he recalled Michelangelo from Florence to complete this massive undertaking. It would take Michelangelo and his workshop six years to complete this fresco, having to remove existing paintings commissioned under Sixtus IV and parts of his very own ceiling program.


In his classic style, Michelangelo groups his muscular, dynamic figures together in dramatic fashion; at top center, Christ waves the scene into action; below, the dead rise toward Christ and his surrounding Saints, while other humans writhe in agony as they are dragged toward Cheron (a pagan figure) and Hell below.


As a sculptor reinterpreting Classical works, it is no surprise that Michelangelo depicts muscular, dynamic anatomies as a painter. Below and to the right of Christ is St. Bartholomew, straddling a cloud and holding a human’s skin (a symbol of his martyrdom by flaying); recently scholars have discovered, however, that the face of the skin is actually the face of Michelangelo himself—that he did not include himself amongst the saved in this work could perhaps indicate his state of mind during this period. Michelangelo left many of the figures nude, believing the human body to be wholesome and holy; after his death death, however, one of his assistants was hired to paint garments over many of the nude figures.