The Last Judgment (Michelangelo)

For more general discussions of the biblical event, see Last Judgment. For other works by the same name, see Last Judgment (disambiguation).

Coordinates: 41°54′10″N 12°27′15″E / 41.90278°N 12.45417°E / 41.90278; 12.45417

The Last Judgment
Italian: Il Giudizio Universale
Artist Michelangelo
Year 1536–1541
Type Fresco
Dimensions 1370 cm × 1200 cm (539.3 in × 472.4 in)
Location Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

The Last Judgment, or The Final Judgement (Italian: Il Giudizio Universale),[1] is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo executed on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. It is a depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. The souls of humans rise and descend to their fates, as judged by Christ surrounded by prominent saints including Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Peter, Lawrence, Bartholomew, Paul, Sebastian, John the Baptist, and others.

The work took four years to complete and was done between 1536 and 1541 (preparation of the altar wall began in 1535). Michelangelo began working on it twenty five years after having finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

An older and more thoughtful Michelangelo originally accepted the commission for this important painting from Pope Clement VII.[2] The original subject of the mural was the resurrection, but with the Pope's death, his successor, Pope Paul III, felt the Last Judgment was a more fitting subject for 1530s Rome. While traditional medieval last judgments showed figures dressed according to their social positions, Michelangelo created a new standard. His groundbreaking concept of the event shows figures equalized in their nudity, stripped bare of rank. The artist portrayed the separation of the blessed and the damned by showing the saved ascending on the left and the damned descending on the right. The fresco is more monochromatic than the ceiling frescoes and is dominated by the tones of flesh and sky. The cleaning and restoration of the fresco, however, revealed a greater chromatic range than previously apparent. Orange, green, yellow, and blue are scattered throughout, animating and unifying the complex scene.

Reception and expurgation

1549 copy of the still unretouched mural by Marcello Venusti (Museo di Capodimonte, Naples).

The Last Judgment was an object of a dispute between critics within the Catholic Counter-Reformation and those who appreciated the genius of the artist and the Mannerist style of the painting. Michelangelo was accused of being insensitive to proper decorum, in respect of nudity and other aspects of the work, and of flaunting personal style over appropriate depictions of content.

Pope's own Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena said of the painting "it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully," and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather "for the public baths and taverns." Michelangelo worked Cesena's face into the scene as Minos, judge of the underworld (far bottom-right corner of the painting) with Donkey ears (i.e. indicating foolishness), while his nudity is covered by a coiled snake. It is said that when Cesena complained to the Pope, the pontiff joked that his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, so the portrait would have to remain.[3]

Two decades after the fresco was completed, the decrees of the Council of Trent urged restraint in religious imagery. The genitalia in the fresco were painted over with drapery after Michelangelo died in 1564 by the Mannerist artist Daniele da Volterra (who because of that got the nickname "Il Braghettone", meaning "the breeches maker"), when the Council of Trent condemned nudity in religious art.[1] The Council's decree in part reads:

Every superstition shall be removed ... all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust... there be nothing seen that is disorderly, or that is unbecomingly or confusedly arranged, nothing that is profane, nothing indecorous, seeing that holiness becometh the house of God. And that these things may be the more faithfully observed, the holy Synod ordains, that no one be allowed to place, or cause to be placed, any unusual image, in any place, or church, howsoever exempted, except that image have been approved of by the bishop.[4]


Detail of The Last Judgement showing the lone dammed figure at top center and at lower right Biagio de Cesena as Minos

The fresco was restored along with the Sistine vault between 1980 and 1994 under the supervision of curator of the Vatican Museums Fabrizio Mancinelli. The illustration reflects the restoration. During the course of the restoration, about half of the censorship of the "Fig-Leaf Campaign" was removed. Numerous pieces of buried details, caught under the smoke and grime of scores of years were revealed after the restoration. It was discovered that the fresco of Biagio de Cesena as Minos with donkey ears was being bitten in the genitalia by a coiled snake. Another discovery is of the figure condemned to Hell directly below and to the right of St. Bartholomew with flayed skin. It was, for centuries, considered to be male until removal of the "fig leaf" showed that it was female.


Mary and Christ 
St. Peter holding the keys 
St. Bartholomew displaying his flayed skin. 
Marcello Venusti painting of The Last Judgement detail showing an uncensored version of St. Catherine at the bottom left while above her, the figure at the left had a different position of his head. 
The censored version of St. Catherine. 
Minos as judge of the Hell 
Symbols of the Passion
The Cross Christ was crucified on 
The pillar Christ was flogged on 

See also


  1. 1 2 "The Last Judgement". Vatican Museums. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  2. Schubring, Paul (1910). The Sistine Chapel. Rome: Frank & C. p. 41. ASIN B00IK9KPD0"(...) the man of sixty does not work with the same swiftness as before. And yet here he was not compelled to lie on his back, he had before him one single smooth vertical flat wall, softly bent forward, which he painted from the top to the bottom."
  3. Reported by Lodovico Domenichi in Historia di detti et fatti notabili di diversi Principi & huommi privati moderni (1556), p. 668
  4. Aldersey-Williams, Hugh. "A History of the Fig Leaf". 16 July 2013. Slate. Retrieved 28 August 2013.

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