Painted on the altar walls of the Sistine Chapel is a fresco entitled The Last Judgment. Pope Clement VII, shortly before his death, commissioned Michelangelo to do the work. The labor on the fresco began three decades after work finished on the chapel ceiling.
What does the fresco depict?
Michelangelo's 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 last or final judgment of all humanity. It is based on the Roman Catholic belief that God will judge all mankind in a single resurrection to determine their eternal fate.
The left half of the fresco shows 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 also suggests that the self-portrait of Michelangelo appears twice in the fresco.
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! His picture, to the left of this text, even includes 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.
After the painter'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 was not until 1993’s restoration of The Last Judgment fresco that half of the censorship placed over the characters was removed. During restoration, it was discovered that the great painter 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 with the Sistine Chapel Fresco?
Biblical understanding conveyed or strongly implied in this fresco include the idea that humans have immortal souls, the concept that God is trying to save the entire world NOW and that Jesus' mother Mary has been given a position and reward above all other saints. Other incorrect teachings include the doctrine that many people will reject salvation and that those who reject God will spend eternity in an ever-burning hell. For information on these fascinating subjects, please see the suggested articles below.