The Last Judgement

In 1534 Michelangelo returned to Rome, where he spent the last thirty years of his life. He had been invited back 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.

The Last Judgement was a common theme in church art, but Michelangelo's interpretation was new and, to some members of the church, very shocking. His Apocalypse is filled with muscular naked figures and dynamic, often violent, action. Although he took great care to strip the nude figures of their sensuality, calls for censorship meant that drapery was painted on some of the figures after Michelangelo's death.

After the Last Judgement, Pope Paul III asked Michelangelo to paint the Pauline chapel in the Vatican Palace. These frescoes - the last he painted - were finished in 1550 when he was aged seventy-five. After this he worked mainly as an architect, an area he was involved in from 1546 when Paul III asked him to complete the Farnese Palace in Rome. However, it was the building of St Peter's that occupied him most, and his design for the basilica is one of his greatest achievements.

Michelangelo continued to work to within a week of his death at the age of eighty-eight. He left extremely detailed documentation of his life - about 1400 letters along with hundreds of notes of his expenses and financial transactions - providing a unique insight into his daily life.

Illustration: A flying angel and other studies by Michelangelo, drawn around 1534-36.