Michelangelo As A Great Figure Of Renaissance

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Michelangelo was born in the middle and late Renaissance period, who drew Renaissance art to its peak. Among varieties of Michelangelo’s biographers, much ink was spilled in the work The Last Judgement most of the writers. Giorgio Vasari and Ascanio Condivi, who are both presents in the minds of mix-sixteenth century’s Florentines and devoted followers of Michelangelo, also written about this work more or less. The might image of The Last Judgement (fig. 1) captured a story from Matthew 25:31-46. Altogether there are near 400 figures, with nearly all the males and angels originally shown as nudes in an infinite variety of dynamic poses, filling the wall to its edges.

For the overall arrangement, both Condivi and Vasari mentioned the precise composition. Prophets, apostles, angles, crowded people and clouds formed a circle, enhancing a sense of grace. It also appears a deep symmetry, where the axis can be drawn by connecting Christ and the cross at bottom. Furtherly, according to the axis, the whole painting can be divided into four sections, including central, upper, right and left. For the upper part, two groups of wingless angels respectively crowded around the cross and the pillar and flew to Christ in the central. The rest was divided into left and right halves, as the elect could join Christ’s heaven in the left part and the damned are cast into the unending torments in the right part.

Christ in the center unleashed a hurricane, with an imperious gesture of judgment, engulfing both those who had been chosen for heaven (fig.3) and those who had been sent to hell (fig.2). But this painting contains a tendency of absolute personalization. Michelangelo overturned the traditional creation mode and expresses his world view: there is no clear division between redemption and condemnation, order and disorder. There is even a kind of pessimism about the destruction of the world between the saints and the wicked. Michelangelo’s exquisite skills to deal with disorder is the main subject Giorgio Vasari and Ascanio Condivi applaud. Whether through Vasari’s and Condivi’s biographies, there are related descriptions about the amazing structure of the human body depicted by Michelangelo.

Over 400 figures varied with diverse and strange postures of the young and old, male and female, and displayed the muscular power along with the sense of grace, especially for those selected and damned, while Condivi also showed his preference to Michelangelo’s expressions and foreshortenings for this section. As people who were selected, their body with outstretched arms took flight toward heaven within angels’ help. Their bodies were such light and free while another sense of muddy was for those was experiencing resurrection. The upper part of the composition is crowded with angels as the middle part is relatively empty, giving a sense of rising and active and an upward trend. The sinners from opposite side were dragged down by evil spirits, human bodies were not soft anymore, and all postures appended here was keeping dragging others, rigid limbs and necks, which might be caused by fear, enhancing a feeling of heaviness. Vasari and Condivi appreciated Michelangelo’s characteristic body structures which twisted and occupied most space of the fresco and became a tool of Michelangelo to create texture and atmosphere. Besides human body structures, Vasari and Condivi thought the distinct emotion expressions separating good and evil directly, helping Michelangelo’s characters be better-rounded and more recognizable.

Characters from The Last Judgement mostly appeared with a personal item helping viewers identified, and everyone can be clearly defined as good or evil. For example, the wingless angles appeared to be serious and the lack of emotion; Christ was gentle, severe, and mysterious; and despair on the seven deadly sinners’ faces. Vasari states each possible human emotions could be found through The Last Judgement: the proud, the envious, the avaricious, the lustful, and each sinner, which respectively related to each body part, can be easily distinguished from every blessed spirit. Those painful, distorted, and hopeless faces looked so real that Vasari concluded Michelangelo used to image the depress during his closed working, which is the reason for why Michelangelo was far superior to other artists in Renaissance period and even triumphed over Michelangelo himself. There were not only distinctive facial expressions for each character but also clear personal symbolic items to help viewers identify prophets, apostles and devils: St Peter with keys; St Laurence with the gridiron; St Catherine of Alexandria with the cogwheel; St Simon with the axe and St Sebastian kneeling holding the arrows. In the center of the lower section are the angels of the Apocalypse who are wakening the dead to the sound of long trumpets.

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Also, both writers mentioned Michelangelo saluted Dante’s Inferno, where declared: “The devil Charon, with eyes of glowing coals, / summons them all together with a signal, / and with an oar he strikes the laggard sinner.” In the lower right corner of the altar wall, Charon-the ferryman from Greek mythology who transports souls to the underworld – swings his oar as he drives the damned onto hell’s shores. Vasari and Condivi also appreciated that no one through The Last Judgement was a secondary, Michelangelo endowed them with distinct emotions, standpoints, and strong identities. There was one character who Condivi and Vasari gave different interpretations.

Through Condivi’s book, Christ was such severe that Madonna was also afraid of her son (fig 4), standing apart but behind him, slightly timid in appearance and almost as if uncertain of the wrath and mystery of God, but trying to be as close as her Son. However, Madonna from Vasari’s description wrapping herself in her cloak, was so kind and humanitarian, as her mercy did not allow her to see and hear the great devastation. The former Madonna played as a secondary to foil Christ, oppositely the latter Madonna shows kindness and love of gods. Vasari and Condivi highly prized Michelangelo so much that ignored other voices in the society, which caused bias through both biographies. As personal friends and devoted followers of Michelangelo, Giorgio Vasari and Ascanio Condivi spoke highly about The Last Judgement. Actually, there was not much description about the work from Vasari, since he once stated that ‘because it has been copied and printed so often, both in large and small format, that it doesn’t seem necessary to lose time in describing it.”

However, the praise and admiration towards The Last Judgement have already been reflected through his limited words. Also, Condivi stated Michelangelo was totally objective and fair and left out no attitude or gesture with The Last Judgement. Vasari and Condivi both thought all the figures appeared in a graceful and decent way, using adjectives like “magnificence”, “admirable” or full of “divinity”. However, The Last Judgement actually was considered as ‘obscene’ by continuing for years. The human bodies presented fully naked was judged not suitable to be shown in sacred places. Michelangelo was also accused of being insensitive to proper decorum in respect of nudity and other aspects of the work, and of pursuing artistic effect and personal preference over respecting and following the scriptural description of the event.

Giorgio Vasari’s and Ascanio Condivi’s bias also occurred when they chose to escape from Michelangelo’s charge with being a pagan. The bishop accused the combination of pagan mythological figures with Christian depictions, such as those of Charon and Minos, angels without wings, and classical depictions of Christ was also opposed. The angels blowing trumpets are all in one group, whereas in the Book of Revelation they are sent to “the four corners of the earth”, instead of being central and calling for people from four corners of the earth.

Vasari and Condivi were too eager for changing Michelangelo’s public opinion at the time to write the biography from the standpoint of a fair attitude. Through Vasari’s and Condivi’s books, Michelangelo’s technique of painting graceful human body with strong third dimension and distinct personal identities and emotions are focused, and an idea about Madonna slightly differed from each other. As two biographies written for Michelangelo, The Last Judgement and the artist were built to be entirely positive images, as a generational might fresco with a subtle, talented, refined, and sensitive painter, however, serious controversies did exist around nudes and re-created stories from The Last Judgement in Renascence history, which was not covered by both writers.

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