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The Last Judgement

Miguel Ángel, 1541

Almost 30 years after making the frescoes in the vault of the chapel, Pope Paul III commissioned the artist Michelangelo to paint the largest fresco ever created. The Pontiff indicated the topic to be addressed: The Last Judgment, inspired by the Apocalypse of St. John. The theme was related to what had happened in the Church in the preceding years: the Protestant Reformation and the plundering of Rome.

Once finished, in 1541, the painting provoked the most violent scandal and criticism, because it was considered shameful that in such a sacred place so many naked figures had been represented, especially some couples whose positions could seem compromised. According to some bishops, the fresco did not correspond to an enclosure as sacred as the Chapel but to a tavern.

Michelangelo was accused of heresy and an attempt was made to destroy the fresco. Although Pope Julius III was tolerant and did not concern himself with the nudes, at his death the "correctness" of the fresco would be decided by placing cloths of purity on all his characters.

Because of the greatness of the work and the number of facts and characters included, it is practically impossible to see at first glance the innumerable and fantastic characters contained in it. For this reason, it is necessary to divide all the paint into different parts:

In the center are the images of Christ and Mary. The Redeemer, in his character as Judge, has his right arm raised to impart divine justice; his face shows, with harshness, the inflexibility of his decision. Mary, on the other hand, seems very afflicted for the moment and practically resigned to the consequences of the Judgment, taking a position gathered under the arm of Jesus. Surrounding the central characters, you can see various martyrs, Michelangelo added details to recognize them, for example, San Lorenzo holds the grill with which he was burned alive in Rome. San Sebastian carries the dates with which he was martyred

Below and to the right of the fresco are found, and continue to fall, all those condemned by God in Judgment, thrown by the angels. There the demons wait for them, to load their bodies in the boat that is going to set sail by the Stige River until the hell, handled by the mythical Charon, which collaborates with the demons striking savagely the condemned ones with its stick.

Vatican Museums