LUCA SIGNORELLI: Apocalypse or the Destruction of the World, 1499 – 1502, Fresco, Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto

 ‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.’ (Mark 13:24)

 Italy in the early sixteenth century was ridden with not just disease and war but with a sense of spiritual paranoid. The Apocalyptic hysteria meddled minds and perturbed souls. This was best exemplified by the prophecies of Girolamo Savonarola, a charismatic Dominican friar. He staged ‘bonfires of vanities’ along with ‘hell-fire sermons’. He warned about the end of time and the great battle between the spiritual and temporal which would usher in the Last Judgement. Regarded Antichrist, Savonarola was burnt at stake in Florence on May 23, 1498.

Was Signorelli inspired by Savonarola? Perhaps yes. This is observed in his paintings in the Chapel of San Brizio, Orvieto. In order to illustrate the ‘Apocalypse’ the artist had to make do with the narrow but beautifully proportioned space on the inner side of the Chapel portal.

We are greeted with a heightened sense of absolute drama. The painting is surmounted with a group of cherubs that seem to blissfully wrestle with a ribbon plaque. At the centre stands a little winged creature holding high the herald of the ‘Opera del Duomo di Orvieto’ (O.P.S.M – the institution that promotes, manages and administers the work of the construction of the Cathedral).

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