LUCA SIGNORELLI: The Sermon and the Deeds of the Antichrist, 1499 – 1502, Fresco, Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto

 ‘Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ – do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray if possible, even the elect.’ – (Matthew 24: 23 – 25)

The sinister sacrileges of the end-times, as foretold by the Scriptures have enticed but a few artists in Italian history. Undoubtedly Luca Signorelli, the melodramatic Old Master of High Renaissance art, was one of them. With utmost veracity of fantastic imagery he brought to life a terrifying age dreaded by all humanity. However one is compelled to question – What sustained his imaginative genius to conceive an art abounding in human depravity? Was it the contemporary state of affairs?

The spectacular serene streets of present day Orvieto conceal the menacing maze of its medieval ways. Five hundred years ago, the beautiful Orvieto was ridden with disease and war as testified by Dante’s Purgatory in 1321. Amidst this wrecking way of life, the fifty-five year old Signorelli scaled the impregnable spurs of volcanic rock.  He painted a series of frantic frescos within the imposing Cathedral surrounded by sweeping shadows.

We will consider the first of these frescoes in today’s article. Titled the ‘The Sermon and the Deeds of the Antichrist’, this Renaissance Apocalypse was debated to be a reference to Savonarola, the famous Dominican friar who was identified as a false prophet and hanged and burned at stake in Florence on May 23, 1498.

Scenographic in space, hundreds of figures fill the flat landscape dominated by the Classical temple with a towering dome to our right. At the far end, bound by atmospheric perspective, a silent city lies still, awaiting its agony.

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