THE LAST JUDGEMENT: Getting into the ‘skin’ of Michelangelo!

As thousands of people trek to the Sistine Chapel, they are greeted by a yawning archway of a complex commotion of figures. Unlike the ceiling that unravels the salvation story of over a thousand years, the Last Judgement captures a moment. It is the moment of swirling drama, of clouds caught in the act of storm. It is a fresco teeming with an awe inspiring ‘terribilita’.

Terribilita! That’s would well describe Michelangelo’s personality! A Romantic hero brooded by guilt, grumpy, insecure, smelly, fretful, fearful and raging; above all, an eccentric! He lived a poor man, eating sparingly, drinking nothing and sleeping little. Michelangelo devoted himself to the beautiful ideas that sprung from the Divine Spirit.

When Pope Paul III commissioned the painting in 1534, the Church was in a crisis. The Reformation had sparked abuses; the Sack of Rome (1527) was a recent memory; war clouds were gathering over Italy and the mood of Europe had changed. Confidence had been replaced by anxiety and hope by fear.

The painting is a powerful execution of 391 figures, no two alike in an appalling drama in a variety of dynamic poses. At the centre of the composition is the demanding figure of Christ set against a golden aureole. His raised hand, as a gesture of command, sets the events into motion. The Virgin nestles by His side, her hands crossed, indicating prayer and intercession.

Right below Christ are the angels of judgement, 8 in number, blowing their trumpets with all their might to convoke the dead from the four quarters of the earth. On their right is the gaping mouth of a cavern, an entrance to purgatory. The dead with shaking shrouds and drooping eyelids realise it is time to rise. Some rise effortlessly, others are pulled by an invisible force; still others uplifted by an army of angels. Interestingly a pair of souls clings on to a rosary (prayer). Another soul is caught is a tug of war, pulled at one end by two angels and at the other by a nasty demon.

Spread the love ♥
Continue Reading