Painted on the altar walls of the Sistine Chapel is a fresco known as The Last Judgment. Pope Clement VII, shortly before his death, commissioned Michelangelo (b. 1475 A.D., d. 1564 A.D.) to paint it. He began the fresco three decades after having finished painting the ceiling of the chapel. It is widely believed to be Michelangelo's crowning achievement in painting and is the largest single fresco of the 16th century.
What does the fresco depict?
The fresco depicts the second coming of Jesus Christ (standing in the top middle of fresco with his mother Mary next to him) and God's final judgment of humanity. It is based on the Roman Catholic belief that God will judge the soul of every human, in a single resurrection, to determine their eternal fate.
In the left half of the fresco are those deemed worthy to ascend into heaven. In the fresco's right half are those unworthy of salvation. Jesus is shown casting the damned toward Hell and Charon (near bottom middle, standing in a boat with a raised oar), who is the mythological ferryman of Hell. Charon's job is to transport the condemned to Minos (very bottom right of fresco with snake wrapped around him), the mythical judge of the underworld, who then directs the spiritually dead to Hell's deeper regions.
Evidence suggests that Michelangelo's self-portrait appears twice in his fresco: The first as the face of the flayed skin which Saint Bartholomew is carrying in his left-hand (near the very middle of the picture), and second as someone who is looking encouragingly at those rising from their graves (bottom lower left).
Was the work controversial from the start?
Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterpiece was not without controversy. His original fresco contained many completely naked characters (e.g. their genitals showing), including Christ and his mother Mary. A Roman Catholic Cardinal named Carafa saw the fresco and accused the artist of immorality and obscenity. The Cardinal soon enlisted the aid of a Monsignor Sernini to begin a campaign (known as the "Fig Leaf Campaign") to have the work removed or censored.
Over time even the Pope's own Master of Ceremonies named Biagio da Cesena joined in condemning the fresco for it nudity. Cesena went so far as to state that the fresco was better suited for a tavern or public bath than a church!
Michelangelo, angered at Cesena's criticisms, used his face for Minos, the god of the underworld! He is shown in the picture at right. He was given donkey ears to represent foolishness. When Cesena complained to the Pope the Pontiff apparently joked that since his jurisdiction did not extend to hell, the portrait would have to remain.
Minos, god of the underworld,
with the face of Biagio da Cesena.
After Michelangelo's death in 1564 A.D. the Council of Trent, who had condemned nudity in religious art, commissioned an artist to cover up the genitalia in his fresco. It wasn't until 1993 A.D., when The Last Judgment fresco was being restored, that half of the censorship placed over the characters was removed. During restoration it was surprisingly discovered that Michelangelo originally painted Minos with a snake wrapped around himself and his genitals covered by the snake's head BITING him in the groin!
What is wrong?
The Last Judgment, although rightfully considered one of the world's greatest works of art, reflects several incorrect Biblical teachings. Some of the major ERRORS in Biblical understanding conveyed or strongly implied in the fresco include:
Humans have souls which are immortal.
ALL mankind will be judged in a single resurrection from the dead.
The ONLY chance to be saved is during a physical life lived before Jesus' return.
Jesus' mother Mary has been given a position and reward above all others.
There will be MANY people who will not ultimately be saved.
- The reward of the righteous is to live forever in heaven.
The punishment of the unrighteous is to be tortured and suffer FOREVER.
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