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INRE: ICONOLOGICAL PROBLEMS OF MICHELANGELO'S LAST JUDGMENT As outlined before in these Franciscan Studies,* the two lunette paintings that originally adorned the altar-wall of the Sistine Chapel formed the introduction to the sequence of the frescoes symbolizing the ancestors of Christ. Within the ceiling composition they alluded to the Lord. The one, painted on the side where in the later fresco of the Last Judgment the ascension of the saved was shown, represented the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah whose names, according to the commentary of Nicolaus of Lyra,1 indicate Christ as the Savior. The other, representing the lost generation of the wanderers in the desert, Phares, Esrim, Aram, on the side of the fall of the damned, described Christ as the Supreme Judge of the peoples, separating the sheep from the goats, whose voice pierces the hearts of all who hear Him. Both lunettes were quasi "tituli" elucidating the meaning of the first part of the ceiling composition which refers to "divisio" : The separation of light and darkness, heaven and earth, good and bad, the elect and the damned. When Michelangelo was ordered by the Pope, Clement VII, to amplify his decoration of the Sistine Chapel by the representation of the Last Judgment, these "tituli" became dispensable, as the new representation carried the same message. Their description of Christ as the Supreme Judge of the peoples "whose voice pierces the hearts of all who hear Him" explains the iconography of Christ and His surroundings in the Last Judgment fresco and accounts for its deviation from the customary representations of this theme. Deviations from conventual features of older representations of the Last Judgment abound in Michelangelo's work, but, as in the case just mentioned, they can be explained by reference to traditional or contem- * Vol. XIII, June-September 1953, p. 166. 1 Nicolaus of Lyra, Postillae Perpetuae in Universa Biblia, Comm. to Matth. I. For the various editions of Nicolaus' work see Hyac Sbaralea, Suppl. adscript. Ord. Min. II, Rome 1921, pp.276—281; E.Longpré.O.F.M., in Arch. Franc. Hist., XXIII, 1930, pp. 42—56; Hain, Rep. bibl. n. 10663— 408, etc.; J. Stegmüller, Repertorium Biblicum Medii Aevi IV, Madrid 1954, pp. 51—94. For iconological studies of works of art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the editions containing also the Additiones by Paul of Burgos and the Replicae by Mathias Döring are preferable. 43 44H. B. GUTMAN porary theological thought. Franz Xaver Kraus2 maintains rightly that Michelangelo did not only stand firmly within the tradition, but took more seriously the strictly ecclesiastical tradition in theological literature and in liturgy than any of his predecessors. Unfortunately, however, Kraus' own interpretation of Michelangelo's fresco fell short of this statement. It was so little convincing that his colleague Kuenstle, Professor at the same University of Freiburg, could express exactly the opposite opinion.3 This is not an isolated case, and it is a rather difficult task to find one's way in the bewildering topsyturvy displayed by the interpreters of the great work of Michelangelo. In this paper, we will try to substantiate the theory of Kraus. We shall refrain from going further into the details of the numerous attempts to interpret Michelangelo's Last Judgment. Many of them are interesting and reveal some acute observation, others come short of any reasonable understanding. Within the last two centuries, from Stendhal and Delacroix to this day, most of them tried to explain the message of Michelangelo 's Last Judgment more or less from a humanistic angle, from modern and arbitrary interpretation of the Scriptures, of Dante whose influence has sometimes been vastly overrated, of the Neo-Platonists of the Renaissance etc. Among the more recent interpretations it was only the one by De ToInay4 who took also some theological thought into consideration. This becomes understandable only when we remember that the cultural crisis that marked the transition from what we are used to call the middle ages, when rationalism ruled supreme, to our time of empiricism and inductive science, culminated, in the special field of religion, in the Protestant movement on one side, and the reorganization of the old Church accomplished...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 43-57
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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