Giotto’s Last Judgement is a large fresco located in the Arenachapel in Padua, Italy. The patron of the chapel, Enrico Scrovegni, wanted todedicate this chapel to Saint Mary of Charity, as a way of showing hischaritable acts, although convicted of Usury. Completed in 1305, the fresco ispresented throughout the whole of the west wall and is dominated by Christ inall his glory and divinity. Keeping in line with tradition, the action of thefresco happens all around Christ, neatly ordered within a hierarchy, theblessed are positioned to Christ’s right and to those condemned to hell are inthe lower left section. However Michelangelo was more conventional in his laterversion of the Last Judgement completed in 1541. Commissioned by Pope Paul IIIin the Sistine chapel, Rome, Michelangelo is seen to have rather incorporatedtechniques that would grasp the attention of his viewers.
He wanted the spectatorto question why certain features were different in the chaotic fresco and thedifference in representation of certain figures. Michelangelo’s Last Judgementnot only expressed his ideas and beliefs, but also communicates a message toviewers.Whilst there are some visual similarities between these twoscenes, it is clearly visible that there are differences, not only theintention of the artist but the message they wanted the scene to convey.This essay shall provide a detailed and comparative analysisbetween the two scenes.
It will start by analysing the figure of Christ in theArena Chapel and then go on to describe and evaluate the difference inMichelangelo’s depiction of Christ. The second part of the essay will firstlyillustrate the distinctive depiction of Mary in the Sistine Chapel in contrastto Giotto’s rendering of Mary in the Arena Chapel. In Giotto’s traditional depiction of Christ, Christ isdepicted as a large and prominent figure seated in a presumable throne within arainbow mandorla. (Frugoni, 2005) He is surrounded by a golden halo withthe addition of three mirrors, bearing reference to the Holy Trinity, whenstruck with light. Derbes and Sandona (2008) mention the positioningand gestures of Christ were obligatory attributes of Christ in a LastJudgement. His extended arms are symbolic of his Judgements, that of the righthand lifted up towards the blessed and the left hand lowered and facingdownwards, addressing the damned.
Giotto’s depiction of the Judging Christ hasa visual parallel between Christ and the Virtue of Justice, as depicted in thechapel. Previous scholars have analysed the posture of the virtue of Justice,claiming that the right hand performs a virtuous act, whilst the left hand isready to reject. Justice is also seated in a throne, symbolic of her power and authority,she embodies a prominent stature with her size equating to that of herimportance. The emphasis placed on the virtue of Justice brings to light theevident parallels between her and the figure of Christ in the Last Judgment, asthe association between heavenly and earthly judgements. However, an unusual feature of Christ is that of the tuniche attires, that opens up to emphasize Christ’s wound from the cross that hasbeen regarded by theologians as symbolic of Christ’s charity, as Bonaventure regardedis as ‘exemplum caritatis’ (ibid., p.77). Frugoni also states that Christ’swounds are a prominent feature within this Judgement, symbolic of hiscrucifixion, particularly highlighted by his ribs, which asserts that he hasindeed risen (2005).
Thus suggesting that both the garment and the woundstogether are symbolic of the virtue of charity, a predominant theme throughout theentirety of this fresco. The placement of Christ’s right foot on the mandorlaand his right hand extended provoke a symbolic gesture of acceptance andwelcome as it faces upwards (Shorr, 1956). Furthermore hisbody language proves to be more welcoming as his glance is directed towards thosewho are blessed, those who are to be saved. Contrastingly his left hand isturned down, a gesture that symbolizes his rejection and disapproval, withanger also arguably portrayed in his eyebrow, this shows his acknowledgement ofthose who are damned and to be sentenced to hell. Barnes explores the depiction of Christ in Michelangelo’sLast Judgement as one of ‘extraordinary complex content’ (1998, p.
8).Michelangelo portrays a series of developments in his fresco that move awayfrom tradition. Nevertheless Michelangelo incorporates the gesture of Christ inthe same way as Giotto, as it is a fundamental feature within the LastJudgement as a form of identifying the scene itself. The positioning ofChrist’s hands infers to the binal significance of the scene, of inviting theblessed to heaven and rejecting the damned to hell.
Moreover, Barnesacknowledges how Michelangelo too encouraged one’s eye to focus on Christ’shand near the positioning of his wound in his side, as symbolic of the positivemessage the wound conveys. Michelangelo’s diverseunclothed interpretation of Christ was perhaps accomplished to allowMichelangelo to emphasize his interest and studies in the human body and accentuatehis muscular physique, in particular that of his torso and the positioning ofhis legs. The ‘exposed torso’ and nudity of Christ was symbolic in showing hiswounds, referencing his passion and crucifixion, that symbolizes his offeringof salvation to humanity (1998, p.22). Hall (2005) criticises Christ’smore youthful appearance, that lacking a beard decreases his divine status andinstead makes him look too human like.
However Barnes (1998) argues that thebeardless Christ is instead a portrayal of the perfect beauty of youth, one whodoes not age. Furthermore, Michelangelo depicts Christ to employ a rathermore dynamic and ambiguous pose. Barnes (1998) argues that Christ is foremostlyindicated to be seated, this being in succession with tradition.
However,Christ’s left leg is almost straight and with his raised arm, these featuresallude one to believe that a sense of movement is about to take place and thusChrist exploits a more dynamic space than the previous static Christ. Hall addsthat Christ’s twisted torso in a formation of contrapposto, allows him to ascendfrom his seat, reference to Christ’s ‘bursting from the tomb’ (2005, p.11).
Barnesargues that Christ acts as the prime move, with dynamic counter positioning ofhis arms and legs, he energizes the upper half of the composition. Thisambiguous and thus more complex formation of Christ allows the spectator,within the realms of their own imagination, to complete the movement of Christfrom seated to standing. Thus permits Christ to ostensibly move from beyond theframework and engage more powerfully so, then any other figure, with thespectator. Barnes argues that not only the size of Christ, but thegolden light behind Christ grants his presence to be more ‘forceful’ (1998,p.36).
Hall argues that the inclusion of these bright yellow pigments withinthe fresco give it a sun like appearance within the scene to ‘move in an ineluctableand unperceived rotation’ (2005, p.12). Although in Giotto’s Last JudgementChrist also has a strong yellow backdrop, Greenstein further analyses thissymbolism of the sun, as written In the Gospel of Matthew, that Christ’s ‘faceshone as the sun’ (1989, p.
49). This has leadChristian theologians to believe that the inclusion of this yellow pigment,embodying the sun, encompasses and indicates a change in glory and thus alludesto Christ’s second coming. Modern scholars however have picked up onMichelangelo’s all’antica style, with his reference to classical antiquitybeing that of influence of Apollo Belvedere, the God of the Sun.
Although theirphysical bodies are different, Greenstein argues that Michelangelo depictedChrist’s head in conjunction with Apollo in order to render the Son of God,with the metaphorical language by St Matthew to provide a visual embodiment,that describes the transfigured Christ. The two depictions of Mary display the development fromtraditional depictions. Hall remarks that the posture of Michelangelo’s Mary haschanged, by displaying a more passive disposition with her arms folded unlikethe active depiction of Mary in Giotto’s Judgement (2005). This cleardifference perhaps suggests that her role as an intercessor has ended. The physicalcloseness between Christ and Mary can be an indication that Justice has alreadybeen tempered with mercy, thus showing the two as unified, not separate.
The’extraordinary’ depiction of Mary, perhaps incorporated to grasp the attentionof the spectator, closely connects her to Christ, as she is placed within hisshadow (2005, p.62). However her unusual pose shows her angled body facing awayfrom Christ, with her legs entangled together and her face serene, implyingcowardly behaviour (2005, p. 62). Mary normally is represented in a prayer likeposition, or takes a more active role in the Judgement as the intercessor forhumanity.
In Michelangelo’s sketches it was apparent that he aimed to give hera more passionate and active role, however the apparent change in her posemeans that she no longer acts as the intercessor for humanity. She is uncrownedand dressed in more ordinary garments, giving her a more humble than divinedepiction and subsequently makes her harder to identify with. The gaze of Marydoes not engage with the spectator, rather she focuses on the space below, afeature that is more commonly included in paintings of the Assumption.
Michelangelo is showing a different representation of the ‘character’ of Mary (2005,p.66). Barnes (1998) notes that Mary was a popular role model for women, asymbol of humility and sinless behaviour. Mary portrays purity, as the motherof Christ she is the symbol of everlasting life. The Virgin is beautiful andelegant and presented with graceful posture. In Giotto’s scene of the Last Judgement, Derbes and Sandonaclarify the Virgin as symbolic of the virtue of charity, embodying a far moreactive role in the scene (2008).
Not only is she depicted twice within the samescene, but she embodies the role of intercessor and the remiser of sin. She isobserved in elaborate participation just below the mandorla, at the head of theprocession of the saved (Barnes, 1998). This clearly shows her role as theintercessor for mankind before the judge, of whom is Christ (Shorr, 1956). Bybeing second in size to Christ this also elevates her importance.
Her physicalsituation is unusual in western representations during the Medieval time.Giotto rather wanted to position the emphasis of the Virgin Mary on therelationship between the Virgin and those who look for salvation. Portrayed asa regal and dominant figure, she is isolated from the blessed by the mandorlain which she stands.
The obedience of Mary conveys salvation, for herself and humanity,portraying ‘the Virgin’s power to intercede with her son for the salvation ofmankind when all other means have failed’ (Shorr, 1956, p.178).In her second appearance she is seen receiving the Arenachapel presented to her by Enrico Scrovegni (Stubblebine, 1995). However here she isrepresented as the Annunciate Virgin and Saint Mary of Charity, portraying agesture of acceptance and forgiveness as though in return for Scrovegni goodacts giving this chapel to her. The Virgin exhibits a downward gaze, symbolic ofher compassionate role, towards the kneeling Enrico Scrovegni, highlighting herclose relationship to humankind and her role of salvation (Shorr, 1956).
Theposition of her extended right arm mirrors the exact replica of Christ’s, whichsubsequently supports her role as ‘coredemptrix’, as is also suggested with herred dalmatic garment, like Christ, a colour that is associated with charity (Derbesand Sandona, 2008, p.77). The dark ultramarine background also reinforces the Virgin’sgesture and the tilt of her head towards Enrico, highlighting the closeness oftheir relationship, with acceptance being predominantly significant (Shorr,1956).Mary is identified as the Queen of heaven and the crowned Virgin.Here she represents the compassionate role of Santa Maria della Carita, towhich the term for charity is derived from. Thus Barnes (1998) evaluates that the dual appearance of theVirgin emphasizes her important role in the judgment and reinforces her duty.This was an iconographic change to which religious ideology was thought to bemade clearer the more emphatic the art was and thus stories of the Virgin Marybecame more elaborate and depicted Mary more clearly as the intercessor.
In conclusion, there are notable and evident differencesbetween these two depictions of the Last Judgement. Whilst they both includeChrist at the centre of the scene, actively imploring the duties of Judgementby the gestures of his hands, it is clear that the different periods of completionof these scenes account for the artists’ different intentions and prioritiesconveyed. Giotto’s Last Judgement predominantly focuses on the importantsymbolism of charity, whilst keeping with tradition in the figure of a judgingChrist. Yet, he elevated the active role of Mary in the scene with her dualdepiction emphasising the importance of her role as intercessor. However Michelangeloevidently focused on the break with tradition, by presenting Mary with a morepassive role, the main focus was on the active and dynamic depiction of Christ,as well as the addition of his innovative youthful and muscular figure.