Michelangelo, Studies for the Last Judgement, black chalk drawing

Rome, Italy
About 1534-6

Michelangelo (1475-1564) spent the last thirty years of his life in Rome. He had been invited back there by Pope Clement VII to paint the altar wall in the Sistine chapel. The resulting work, his Last Judgement, was a highly original, if controversial, masterpiece.

This is one of only six surviving studies for the fresco. It is not easy to decipher at first glance. The earliest drawings on the sheet are the studies in soft, and now somewhat rubbed, black chalk: a seated male looking downwards at the lower centre, and a small-scale version of the same pose, drawn to the right of centre with the sheet turned upside down.

The upper part of the larger figure is overlaid by studies for a three-tiered group of figures who appear on the right side of the finished composition. The artist began by drawing the three figures at the top left; they correspond to the saints grouped immediately to the right of Christ in the fresco but differ in detail. In the drawing two of the saints crane forward to watch the action below, whereas in the fresco almost all the figures close to Christ on the right are focused attentively on his actions.

The middle band of figures in the drawing corresponds to the group of Martyrs in the painting. The general composition of this group matches that of the fresco fairly closely. In the group below, the leftmost angel is shown throttling one of the sinners with both hands. The remaining part of the sheet is filled with studies of individual figures.

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More information

Bibliography

H. Chapman, Michelangelo drawings: closer (London, British Museum Press, 2005)

Dimensions

Height: 38.500 cm
Width: 25.300 cm

Museum number

PD 1895-9-15-518

PD08219

Location

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