LUCA SIGNORELLI: The Damned, 1499 – 1502, Fresco, Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto

Our journey with Signorelli through this ‘End of Days’ series draws us to one of his most acclaimed masterpiece. Titled ‘The Damned’, a single glance at this chaos of evil can shoot shivers down your spine. It renders creativity at its best while inducing a sense of awe and terror in every observer who dares to marvel at the master’s mind.

The painting opens with a glimpse of heaven. Three armoured Archangels, namely Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, stand tall upon brittle billows of clouds. Their attitude and attire denotes their dignity and duty. With half-drawn swords they supervise the fulfilment of the Scriptures – ‘Then the King will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”’ – Matthew 25:41

In a well-proportioned pattern, alongside the Archangels are depicted the devouring devils with swooping bat-like wings. Notice how these muscular mighty figures tremble with fear. They haste towards hell in order to escape chastisement. In doing so, two of the fiends let go of their prey who in turn tumble through the atmosphere into the netherworld.

The foreground of the painting is absolutely appalling. A dense mass of writhing humans twist and turn in agony as diabolical demons torment their beings. To the far left of the foreground lies the ghastly Gehenna gloomed by a fuming fire that consumes the crawling corpses. Could any creature ever comprehend this catastrophic vision?

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