Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment

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Censorship in America

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Perhaps the most famous modern work of art to be censored is The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. A fresco on the alter wall of The Sistine Chapel in Vatican City; it took four years to complete (1537-1541). Michelangelo began working on it nearly 30 years after finishing the ceiling of the chapel.

The work is massive and spans the entire wall behind the altar of the Sistine Chapel. The Last Judgment is a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the apocalypse. The souls of humans rise and descend to their fates, as judged by Christ surrounded by his saints.

The Last Judgment was an object of a heavy dispute between Cardinal Carafa and Michelangelo: the artist was accused of immorality and intolerable obscenity, having depicted naked figures, with genitals in evidence, inside the most important church of Christianity, so a censorship campaign (known as the “Fig-Leaf Campaign”) was organized by Carafa and Monsignor Sernini (Mantua’s ambassador) to remove the frescoes. When the Pope’s own Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, said “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.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.[1]

The genitalia in the fresco were covered 24 years later (when the Council of Trent condemned nudity in religious art) by the artist Daniele da Volterra, whom history remembers by the derogatory nickname “Il Braghettone” (“the breeches-painter”). In the painting, Michelangelo does a self portrait depicting himself as St. Bartholomew after he had been flayed (skinned alive). This is reflective of the feelings of contempt Michelangelo had for being commissioned to paint “The Last Judgement”.[2] The figure of St. Bartholomew depicts the satirist and erotic writer Pietro Aretino who had tried to extort a valuable drawing from Michelangelo. He holds the painter’s flayed skin as a symbol of attempted victimization.

If you liked this article, you may want to check out the book about The Last Judgment by clicking the link below.

  1.  Reported by Lodovico Domenichi in Historia di detti et fatti notabili di diversi Principi & huommi privati moderni (1556), p. 668
  2. Dixon, John W. Jr. “The Terror of Salvation: The Last Judgment”. http://www.crucifixion.com/visual/theology/johndixon/terror.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
  3. Shrimplin, V. (2000), “Michelangelo and Copernicus: A Note on the Sistine Last Judgement “, Journal for the History of Astronomy 31: 156, http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2000JHA….31..156S . See also Shrimplin, V. (1999), Sun Symbolism and Cosmology in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, Kirksville: Truman State University Press .
“The Last Judgment (Michelangelo).” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 14 Sept. 2010. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Judgment_(Michelangelo)&gt;.

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3 comments on “Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment
  1. […] Through out history images have been censored or destroyed to suit a particular of the people in charge,  it always comes under the cloak of morality. Michael Angelo had to censor his own work to please those in charge, funny how the very institution that called his work heresy is doing everything in it’s power to preserve his treasures. (http://censorshipinamerica.com/2010/10/25/michelangelos-the-last-judgment/) […]

  2. […] around “Ground Zero” in New York, the Taliban destruction of Buddha statues, revisions of the works of Michelangelo, Speilberg’s doctoring of ET, and the Politically Correct Bible. In all of these cases, […]

  3. […] around “Ground Zero” in New York, the Taliban destruction of Buddha statues, revisions of the works of Michelangelo, Spielberg’s doctoring of ET, and the Politically Correct Bible. In all of these cases, […]

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