The Rediscovered Early Design for Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel.
Professor Juliusz A. Chrościcki
Expert in 16th-17th century paintings and drawings
Full Professor Emeritus at the University of Warsaw
Dr. Katarzyna Krzyżagórska-Pisarek
Art historian and researcher specialising in attributions
The Rediscovered Early Design for
Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco in the
- Style of Execution
III. Date and Inscription on the Verso
- Provenance and Condition
- The Last Judgment by Michelangelo: The Three Phases
- Extant Preparatory Drawings for the Last Judgment
VII. Written Records of Preparatory Drawings for the Fresco
VIII. Main Differences between the Drawing and the Fresco
- Similarities between the Drawing and the Engravings
- Differences between the Drawing and the Engravings
- A Lost Preparatory Drawing for the Engravings
XII. A Miniature Drawing by Johannes Wierix in the Royal Library Brussels
XIII. An Anonymous Drawing in the Royal Collection, Windsor
XIV. An Illuminated Miniature by Circle of Clovio in the Casa Buonarroti, Florence
- Comparison with Michelangelo’s Drawing of Grotesque Heads
Historical Records of Preparatory Drawings and Modelli for the Last
- Vasari’s records of Michelangelo’s drawings and cartoons for The Last Judgment
- Pietro Aretino’s letter of 1545
- The Inventory of the Collection of drawings by Old Masters formed by Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A.
- The Last Judgment drawings by and after Michelangelo in the collection of King William II of the Netherlands
- Archival and sales records of The Last Judgment paintings by or after Michelangelo
- Michael Hirst, Michelangelo and his First Biographers, 1994, Proceedings of the British Academy
This is a high quality, expressive and freely executed pen and brown ink drawing on parchment/vellum (33 x 27.25 cm; cut down from 38.2 x 28.4 cm; 2 mm in thickness) recording an early design of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s (Caprese 6 March 1475 – Rome 18 February 1564) Last Judgment fresco on the altar wall of the Apostolic Palace at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The monumental fresco (13.7 x 12 m) was completed between 1536 and 1541.
This masterful drawing might has been executed under Pope Julius II, before 1513
(the latter’s death), as indicated by its style and technique similar to Michelangelo’s early pen and ink drawings from the beginning of the 16th century. These stylistic and technical parallels are particularly apparent in the UV light images of the drawing. Since the 10th century the papal office in the Vatican has been using parchment for all important documents. If the artist was preparing his designs for the pope, he might have been offered the parchment by the Vatican office.
Michelangelo destroyed many of his preparatory Roman drawings shortly before he died in February 1564, and in his will there was an order to burn all the drawings in the Roman studio, which was partly carried out. This early design for the Sistine
Chapel on parchment has survived, possibly in the collection of Pope Julius II, born Giuliano della Rovere (1443-1513 Rome) or his daughter Felice della Rovere (ca. 1483 –1536) to whom it might have been gifted by Michelangelo with other preparatory drawings for the Sistine Chapel executed for Pope Julius II. Later it might have been in the collection of Vittoria della Rovere (1627-1694), who inherited the entire della Rovere family collection. The drawing was most probably taken to France in the second half of the 17th century as witnessed by an old French inscription on the verso.
The pen and ink drawing on vellum is unrecorded in literature and is unique for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was executed with great fluency and precision as well as vitality as revealed by the UV light images. Under the microscope, the technique of execution was identified as analogous with early drawings by Michelangelo executed in pen and ink with similar, numerous parallel or crisscrossing lines.
The rediscovered drawing on parchment is also particularly valuable because unlike any other extant preparatory drawing by Michelangelo for the fresco it shows the entire composition of the Last Judgment.
Moreover, it displays many differences with the fresco and the early engravings after it both in terms of composition, the higher number and different types of human figures depicted as well as other significant details. These important variations indicate that this drawing was not copied from the fresco or the early engravings, but was an original design for the Last Judgment possibly made for Pope Julius II.
According to the present state of knowledge, Michelangelo’s vision of The Last Judgment has had three phases of development:
- The earliest designs made for Pope Julius II in 1512–1513;
- The designs made for Pope Clement VII in 1533–1534;
- The fresco painted under Pope Paul III in 1536–1541, using both the fresco and secco technique.
The present design might have been executed during the first phase after
Michelangelo finished painting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling in 1512 and before 1513.
We know that Giorgio Vasari reported in his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, 1550 and 1568 that Pope Julius II ordered Michelangelo to paint the entire Sistine Chapel including the walls, and decreed that he should have 15,000 ducats for the cost of the whole work. There is thus some evidence in Vasari’s writings that Pope Julius II had ordered Michelangelo to work on the Last Judgment: “Clement [VII] wished him to paint the Universal Judgment, […] of which inventions it was found that Michelagnolo many years before had made various sketches and designs.” (…) “Pope [Julius II] ordered that this chapel [Sistine Chapel] be redone, and all the walls with the vault be remade”.
This view has also been endorsed by modern scholars such as Herbert von Einem, John Shearman, Michael Hirst, Johannes Wildes, Bernardine Barnes, Marcia Hall and Anne Leader.
There is further evidence in Vasari’s writings that preparatory drawings and cartoons for the Last Judgment were made under Pope Clement VII between 1533 and 1534: “Michelagnolo was directing the preparation of the designs and cartoons of the Last
Judgment on the first wall” (…) “Pope Clement [VII], desiring to see the final proof of the force of his art, kept him occupied with the cartoon of the Judgment.”
Furthermore, the composition of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment found in the present drawing is recorded with some variations in some engravings by the Monogrammer CBS in the mid-16th c., and then in Martino Rota’s (Sibenik ca.1520-Vienna 1583) popular print dated ca. 1569, which was copied by Laurent Gaultier (1561-1641), Johannes Wierix (Antwerp 1549-Brussels ca. 1620) and others. The best known engraving by Martino Rota is said to have been based on a now lost drawing, presumably by or after Michelangelo.
A similar but not identical composition of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo can be found in an illuminated miniature on parchment attributed to the Circle of Giulio
Clovio (1498-1578), a skilled 16th-century miniaturist and copyist of Michelangelo’s works. It is preserved in the Casa Buonarroti in Florence.
Another comparable design for the Last Judgment, again with some variations, is found in Johannes Wierix’s miniature drawing on parchment, for or after his own engraving of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo, now at The Royal Library, Brussels.
- A pen and ink drawing on parchment (33 x 27.25 cm), private collection
- The same drawing in the UV light
- Visual reconstruction of the drawing in brown on the basis of the UV image
- Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Last Judgment (1536–1541) fresco (13.7 × 12 m), The Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
- The drawing in the UV light compared to the fresco
- The central part of the drawing and the fresco juxtaposed
- Comparison of Charon’s boat in normal and UV light
- Visual reconstruction in brown colour
- High quality and dramatic expression revealed in the UV light
- Reconstruction in brown colour
- High quality and expression revealed in the UV light
- The same detail reconstructed in brown colour
- A masterful multi-figural detail in the UV light and in brown colour
II. Style of Execution
The style of execution of this pen and ink drawing on parchment is dynamic and expressive with a wealth of poses and dramatic gestures as well as powerful feelings depicted in the hundreds of figures in such a small support (33 x 27.25 cm). The brown ink has faded over the five hundred years of its existence, but the UV light has helped to bring the drawing back to life and reveal its high quality. It has also been possible to make a visual reconstruction of the sketch in brown colour on the basis of the UV images.
As revealed by the UV images, this masterful drawing on vellum was executed with considerable speed, spontaneity and freedom of expression as well as high level of details. The energetic, quick and highly animated character of this virtuoso sketch of the early composition of Last Judgment contradicts the idea of a copy which would be much more stilted and careful in execution.
Moreover, in the drawing the expressions of the hundreds of protagonists are even more dramatic than in the fresco! In the fresco, Michelangelo also consistently coarsened and simplified all the facial types, which aspect is more accentuated in the drawing.
Most importantly, the drawing was executed with a precise, fluent and vigorous hatching technique stylistically comparable to Michelangelo’s early pen and ink drawings also made with numerous parallel lines or crisscrossing lines to mark the shadowing. This became particularly apparent when the drawing was examined under the microscope.
- The more dramatic expression in the drawing than in the fresco
- The dramatic expression revealed in the UV light
- The more dramatic expression in the drawing than in the fresco
It is thus highly relevant to visually compare the style and technique of execution of the present drawing with some early pen and ink drawings by Michelangelo.
In our opinion, the following drawings by Michelangelo display some stylistic similarities with the present drawing:
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Male nude seen frontally, ca. 1505-06, pen and brown ink (37.5 x 19.7 cm), Musée du Louvre, Paris
Michelangelo Buonarroti, A study of a seated nude man for the ‘Battle of Cascina’, 1504-05, pen and brown and grey ink heightened with white (partly oxidised) over lead point and stylus, on light brown paper (42.1 x 28.7 cm), The British Museum
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Bust of a Warrior, and a Head in Profile, 1503-04, pen and brown ink (13.9 x 11.5 cm), Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam;
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Two Male Figures after Giotto (recto), 1490-92, pen and grey and brown ink over traces of drawing in stylus (31.7 x 20.4 cm), Musée du Louvre, Paris
Michelangelo Buonarroti, St. Jerome, 1493-97, pen and grey-brown and brown ink (28.5 x 20.9 cm), Musée du Louvre, Paris
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Head of a Satyr, 1501-03, pen in brown and gray-brown ink (13 x 13 cm), British Museum, London.
- Comparison with Michelangelo’s Male nude seen frontally (left, top and bottom) ca. 1505-06, Louvre, Paris (colour of the present drawing changed to black)
- Comparison with Michelangelo’s A seated male nude, ca. 1504-05, The British
Museum, London (left)
- Comparison with Michelangelo’s Jerome, 1493-97, Louvre, Paris (left) with the present drawing in brown colour
- Comparison with Michelangelo’s Head of a Satyr, ca. 1501- 03, The British
Museum, London (right)
- Comparison with Michelangelo’s Two Male Figures after Giotto, 1490-92, Musée du Louvre (top right)
- Comparison with Michelangelo’s Bust of a Warrior and a Head in Profile, 1503-04, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (left)
III. Date and Inscription on the Verso
The first dating of the drawing ca. 1533-1534 is suggested by the 17th-century hand inscription in pen and ink on the verso, now partially cut down, although the complete inscription was recovered in the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, where the drawing was exhibited in 1982 as stated by its previous owner:
“Selon Monsieur Félibien dans ses Entretiens sur les vies et les ouvrages,
Michelange naquit l’an 1474 et véscu près de 90 ans, cela éstant l’ouvrage cj. [cijoint] dessous déssigne, a este fait dans la 60e année de Michelange. “(original spelling in old French) Translation: “According to Mr. Félibien in his Interviews on The Lives and Works, Michelangelo was born in the year 1474 and lived nearly 90 years, this work attached beneath was a drawing/design made in the 60th year of Michelangelo.“
Under this inscription, there is yet another line of indistinct writing: Giu… Clovio (?) with the date 1564 or 1504’, which can only be discerned in the UV light.
A similar date 1504 or 1564 was inscribed by a later hand on the tombstone on the recto, in the lower left corner of the drawing, before it was cut down.
As the French inscription stated that the “design/drawing was done in Michelangelo’s 60th year”, this would indicate the date 1533-1534, thus 2-3 years before the work on the fresco began in 1536.
If the 17th -c. inscription is correct, the drawing is showing an early design for the Last Judgment executed by Michelangelo for Pope Clement VII in 1533-1534, who commissioned the fresco it in 1533 and died in 1534.
The fact that the inscription is in French suggests that the drawing might have been in a French or Belgian (Southern Netherlands) collection. One of the engravers of the Last Judgment, Leonard Gaultier, was French, while the Flemish engraver Johannes Wierix had resided in Brussels.
- An old French inscription on the verso at the top of the drawing
- The (cut down) pen and ink inscription in old French on the verso
- The complete inscription as found in Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana archive
- Giulio Clovio’s signature above compared with the indistinct writing Giu… Clovio
(?) and date 1564 or 1504
- The date on the tombstone 1504 or 1564 revealed in the UV light (now cut off)
The mention of André Félibien’s Entretiens sur les vies et sur les ouvrages des plus excellents peintres anciens et modernes in the inscription in the inscription, a work that was directly inspired by Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects dates it as post 1666-1668, the date when the book was first published. André Félibien (1619–1695) was a French chronicler of the arts and official court historian to King Louis XIV of France.
IV. Provenance and Condition
This masterful 16th –c. pen and ink drawing on parchment comes from a private Swiss collection and was purchased at an auction house in March 2019 in Zurich. It was exhibited at the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana in 1982.
In terms of condition, it was originally larger at the top to include two arcades with an oval portrait of Michelangelo in the middle and slightly larger at the bottom and the other sides to include a tombstone on the lower left. The now missing right corner of the drawing also had false black initials M.A. at the bottom, added by a later hand. The cut off top part was most probably not original, as indicated by the darker colour of the ink and the weaker execution both in terms of modelling and anatomy, to include some anatomical mistakes.
- The larger drawing when sold at auction in Zurich in 2019
- The weaker quality top part of the composition (now partly missing) by another
- The weaker left arcade with a cross (partly missing) by another hand
- The clumsier execution of the right arcade with figures by another hand (partly missing)
- Portrait of Michelangelo at the top with incorrect inscription missing the word
Patricius, by another hand (cut off)
- Lower quality of the top part of the drawing (right)
- Lower quality of the top part of the drawing (right)
- The correctly drawn gridiron compared to the much weaker cross from the top right part of the drawing
V. The Last Judgment by Michelangelo: The Three Phases
The traditional version of events surrounding the creation of the Last Judgment was that Michelangelo came into the project after a long and successful period working for the Medici family in Florence. Upon his return to Rome, he was welcomed by Pope Clement VII (1478-1534), born Giulio de’ Medici, who in 1533 commissioned the artist to paint a new fresco of the Last Judgment (13.7 x 12 m) on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. The Pope died shortly after giving out the commission in 1534, but his successor Pope Paul III (1468-1549), born Alessandro Farnese, made sure that the work was carried out.
According to Anne Leader, however, who summed up the current state of knowledge, “the fresco of the Last Judgment should be seen as the culminating statement of papal propaganda in the Sistine Chapel, which continued the message of papal primacy begun by Pope Sixtus IV as early as in the 1480s”. (Leader 2006) Icographically, the Last Judgment completes the story begun on the chapel’s ceiling. Beginning and end, the whole of Christian past and future are contained within the pope’s chapel. Seen in this broader historical context, the fresco can be understood as an integral part of the chapel’s entire decoration, and its genesis should be taken not to Clement VII, but to Pope Julius II (1503-1513).
Thus, there were three main phases of development of the Last Judgment fresco under three consecutive popes, with the present drawing best fitting into the first phase.
Pope Julius II (1503 – 1513). The Pope commissioned Michelangelo in ca. 1504-06 to repaint the damaged vault of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo painted the ceiling frescoes in 1508-12. There were discussions for a Last Judgment and a Fall of Rebel Angels for the end walls of chapel. Some preparatory drawings were made, later offered by Michelangelo to the Pope’s daughter Felice della Rovere.
Pope Clement VII (1523 – 1534). Fire damages the altar wall in 1525. There is a Sack of Rome and all projects are cancelled in 1527. In 1533 there is revival of the project to decorate the end walls of the Sistine Chapel. More preparatory drawings and cartoons are made by Michelangelo.
Pope Paul III (1534 – 1549). Pope Paul names Michelangelo as “supreme architect, sculptor, and painter of our Apostolic Palace” in 1535. Michelangelo paints the Last Judgment fresco in 1536 -1541.
In 1549 Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Pope Paul III’s grandson, afraid that the original fresco was going to be destroyed because of the “offensive” nudity it contained, commissioned Marcello Venusti (1512–1579) to paint a copy. This painting in tempera on wood (188.5 x 145 cm), now in the Museo di Capodimonte,
Naples, is the only known painted version of what Michelangelo’s fresco looked like before it was censored for nudity and some parts were overpainted.
In 1564-1565 Michelangelo’s pupil Daniele de Volterra was commissioned to overpaint the nudity of the figures, which mostly remain covered today and to adjust other contentious details. He began the work after the Council of Trent held between 1545 and 1563 condemned nudity in religious art.
The resolution passed after the end of the Council of Trent was expressed in the following words:
“The pictures in the Apostolic Chapel [Sistine Chapel] are to be covered, as [is to be done] in other churches if they display anything obscene or obviously false […].”
This intervention on the famous fresco earned Volterra the nickname ‘Il Braghettone’ (“the breeches-maker”). Further coverings of nude body parts were added in the 17th and 18th century.
- Marcello Venusti’s copy of Michelangelo’s uncensored Last Judgment fresco, 1549, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples
There is a plausible hypothesis about the reason for the sudden death of Michelangelo in 1564, immediately after receiving news of the resolution threatening to remove all the “obscenities” in the fresco. It must have been a sudden and tragic shock for the artist, who made a career as a famous architect, sculptor and painter at the papal court in Rome. His magnificent funeral took place after his body was smuggled and transferred to his native Florence. His body was buried in Santa Croce, Florence and the monumental tomb was made by the members of the Florentine Academy in 1568.
It should also be emphasized that most painted, drawn and engraved copies of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco in the 16th and the early 17th c. ignored the censorship recommendations for covering the private parts of the naked bodies, and reproduced the fresco in its uncensored state.
The present drawing also shows the composition in its uncensored state before the over-painting operated by Volterra in 1564-1565. Volterra repainted the larger part of St. Catherine and almost the entire figure of St. Blaise behind her. The two figures were thought to be shown in an ambiguous position and had created a scandal. The present drawing shows the two figures in their uncensored condition, with nudity and the original position of St. Blaise facing St. Catherine, rather than turning away from her, as in Volterra’s painted corrections.
- Comparison of the naked St. Catherine and St. Blaise and the repainted fresco
In terms of Pope Julius’s input in the Last Judgment project, it was Michelangelo scholar Herbert von Einem, who first asked in the 1970s if the Sistine Chapel was planned in its entirety from the beginning, to include the Last Judgment and the Fall of Lucifer (Einem 1973). It was another scholar John Shearman, who answered Einem’s question affirmatively by suggesting that the commission may have originated with Pope Julius II, as part of his plans to repaint the chapel’s damaged ceiling. Shearman raised the possibility that Michelangelo’s Last Judgment was envisioned by Julius II as the culmination of the Christian history begun on the chapel’s vault and walls in a lecture entitled “A Note on the Project of Pope Julius.” He argued that Michelangelo designed drawings for a Fall of the Rebel Angels in ca. 1512 for the Sistine Chapel, used instead four years later in the Chapel of St. Gregory in the Trinità dei Monti in Rome, which was paid for by the husband of Julius’s natural daughter Felice della Rovere. Shearman concluded that preparatory drawings for a Last Judgment could have been begun at the same time, ca. 1512. Moreover, he has “pointed to the presence of Jonah (painted around 1512) in the lunette above the altar wall as evidence that a Last Judgment too was considered at this early point”. (Barnes 2005, 48)
Michael Hirst, Professor of Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London and
Michelangelo scholar confirmed this hypothesis in his own lecture (Hirst 1994; see Appendix). This view was also accepted by another scholar, Johannes Wilde. Hirst quoted the following words by Vasari:
“Ma pure per commissione del Papa et ordine di Giulian de San Gallo fu mandato a Bologna per esso (Michelangelo); e venuto che e ‘fu, ordinò il Papa che tal cappella facesse, e tutte le facciate con la volta si rifacessero; e per prezzo d’ogni cosa vi misero il numero di XV mila ducati .“
Translation: “Also by commission of the Pope and order of Giulian de San Gallo he (Michelangelo) was sent to Bologna for it; and when he came, the Pope ordered that this chapel should be done, and all the walls with the vault should be redone; and for the price of everything they put the number of fifteen thousand ducats”.
Marcia B. Hall also acknowledged as possible that Julius II might have been the first to conceive of a Last Judgment for the Sistine Chapel, although she named Clement VII as the fresco’s first patron (Hall 2002, 151).
According to Anne Leader, Bernardine Barnes also accepted the evidence of Shearman’s lecture, a version of which was first given at the Vatican in 1990 and repeated at the Institute of Fine Arts in 1994; (Barnes 1998, 48, 142 n. 26.)
Barnes wrote this about Shearman’s proposal:
“Shearman also points to the following pieces of evidence to support his hypothesis: a letter of 1523 in which Michelangelo complained that he had been compensated inadequately for his work in the Sistine Chapel, adding that Julius II had wanted him to paint the walls but this part of the project was left incomplete; Vasari’s report that drawings for the Fall of the Rebel Angels made for the Sistine Chapel wall were used for a painting in the Chapel of Saint Gregory in Santissima Trinita dei Monti, which was completed by 1517, about sixteen years before Clement VII asked Michelangelo to paint the altar wall; and the patronage of the Chapel of Saint Gregory by Felice della Rovere, Julius II’s natural daughter, who would have had access to any drawings Michelangelo made for the Sistine Chapel walls.” (Barnes 1998, 142, note 26)
Leader further stressed that
“each pope involved with the chapel’s decoration—Sixtus IV, Julius II, Leo X, Clement VII, and Paul III—had reason to reaffirm papal authority through the chapel’s decoration. Indeed, Julius II presided over the Fifth Lateran Council in 1511, which sought to resolve the nature of the resurrection.” (Leader 2006, 107) She found this additional evidence suggestive:
“Perhaps the ratification as dogma of the belief that the resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming was a process of individual souls taking on new physical bodies—a tenet eloquently described in the lower left portion of Michelangelo’s fresco—inspired Julius to request designs for a Last Judgment from Michelangelo while the artist was completing his work for the pope on the ceiling.”
Also Caroline P. Murphy wrote in her biography The Pope’s Daughter: The Extraordinary Life of Felice della Rovere, Oxford, 2005 that after Julius II’s death his daughter Felice was offered by Michelangelo some drawings and cartoons for the Sistine Chapel, including for the exit wall showing the Fall of Lucifer and the Rebel Angels:
“Felice’s father’s death secured her a revered place among Rome’s humanists and access to some of the most precious items the Renaissance art world had to offer: drawings by Michelangelo.” (…) “Pope Julius himself envisaged a chapel replete not only with a frescoed ceiling but with altar and exit wall decorated with themes selected by his successors. The death of Julius prevented this work from going any further, but not before, it seems, Michelangelo had made preparatory drawings, cartoons, for the Chapel’s exit walls depicting the Fall of Lucifer and the Rebel Angels. What Julius had imagined was a chapel that encapsulated and thus became the entire world, recording its beginning and foretelling its end.” (Murphy 2005, 140)
According to Murphy, after Julius’s death Michelangelo
“felt an obligation to Julius’s heirs, or at any rate to Felice. As interim compensation, he endowed her with the relics of the most extraordinary pictorial project of her father’s time as pope, the cartoons that remained from his work on the Sistine Chapel. This gesture by Michelangelo, arguably the most supremely arrogant figure of the Renaissance, who cared very little for the feelings and opinions of others, shows he did hold Felice in some esteem. (…) Michelangelo sought to maintain tight control over everything he produced. He destroyed hundreds of drawings he felt might blemish his reputation for posterity.” (…)
“The history of what Felice did with these cartoons is somewhat fragmentary but compelling none the less. In 1517, Fra Orsini Mariano da Firenze produced a guidebook to the sights of Rome, both old and new. ‘At the beautiful church of Trinità dei Monti’, he wrote, ‘is a chapel belonging to Gian Giordano Orsini with work by
Michelangelo, prince of painters.’ In 1568, in his second edition of the Lives of the Artists, Giorgio Vasari, describing the Last Judgment that Michelangelo painted in the Sistine Chapel, writes, ‘It has been found that many years before Michelangelo made various sketches and designs, one of which was made into a work in the church of the Trinity in Rome by a Sicilian painter who had served Michelangelo for many months as a colour-grinder. Vasari was dismissive of the Sicilian’s execution of the fresco, but he notes that the work conveys ‘a power and variety in the attitude and grouping of these naked figures raining from the sky and falling to the centre of the earth, counter-posing with the different forms of the devils who are most frightful and bizarre. It is certainly a capricious fantasy.” (…) “Sadly, this chapel was destroyed in the late seventeenth century. However, a record of its frescos remains in what is probably a drawing made of them by the Florentine painter Bronzino, an associate of Vasari, depicting the Fall of the Rebel Angels. Its dramatically tumbling figures and naked forms are heavily Michelangesque in tone. Peter Paul Rubens, an inveterate copier and adapter of Italian pictorial design, might also have stopped by Trinità dei
Monti and the image that he saw there found its way into a Last Judgment he painted, albeit one populated by predictably lush-looking, naked women.”
Elsewhere in Murphy’s book, we find this information:
“The Julian tomb was to become Michelangelo’s bête noire. In 1513, a year after Julius’s death, the artist signed a contract with the representatives of the heirs to Julius’s estate to continue work on the monument. Although she was included among the Pope’s heirs, Felice was not among those listed in this document. The extent of her activities in the political and business world notwithstanding, her gender prevented her from signing this legal document. Instead, the signatures were those of her cousins, Nicolò and Francesco Maria della Rovere. Felice did, however, negotiate on her own behalf with Michelangelo, and it was at this time that she acquired his cartoons from the Sistine Chapel for the frescos decorating her own chapel at Trinità dei Monti.” (Murphy 2005, 254)
It is perhaps significant that Felice della Rovere’s first cousin was Francesco Maria I della Rovere, Duke of Urbino (1490 –1538), whose direct descendant was Vittoria della Rovere (1627-1694).
As we will discuss later, an illuminated miniature by Circle of Giulio Clovio was once in Vittoria della Rovere’s collection and it shows a very similar composition of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo, as seen in the present drawing.
VI. Extant Preparatory Drawings for the Last Judgment
Michelangelo destroyed many of his Roman drawings shortly before he died, but a number of sketches have survived. He also made presents of highly finished drawings called “Presentation Drawings” to his friends in both Florence and Rome. Some of these were eagerly copied, and also have survived. Apart from Francesco Salviati, Giulio Clovio and Alessandro Allori, the identities of most copyists have not yet been established.
There are a few extant preparatory drawings by Michelangelo for the Last Judgment (21; including many minor ones), but they either show an incomplete composition with great variations when compared to the fresco or are studies of individual figures or groups only. None of the surviving designs by Michelangelo is a complete and detailed sketch of the entire composition of the Last Judgment, as seen in the studied pen and ink drawing. The preparatory cartoons have not survived either.
There are for instance two fragmentary compositional drawings of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo (possibly a Resurrection), one dated in ca. 1534, in the Casa Buonarroti, Florence (pencil on paper, 41.8 x 28.8 cm) and another one (pencil on paper, 34.5 x 29.1 cm) ca. 1534 in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne. These early designs display many differences with the fresco in terms of composition and arrangement of figures, so they cannot be considered as directly preparatory for it. They are also dated ca. 1534, so they were not executed for Pope Julius II, but Clement VII.
We also have two copies of Michelangelo’s drawings for the Last Judgment – an incomplete 16th c. drawing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (black chalk, 27.2 x 43.3 cm) showing the top part of the composition, and a copy of the presumed lost modello (pen over black chalk, 56 x 42 cm) at the Courtauld Institute Galleries, Witt Collection, London. Both also deviate considerably from the fresco.
There are also some individual studies of figures such as Studies for the Last Judgment: a flying angel and other figures including one with arms crossed, 1534
(sharply pointed black chalk, 40.4 x 27 cm) in The British Museum, London and Studies for the Last Judgment: St Bartholomew in the ‘Last Judgment’; the whole, nude figure to the front, omitting the head and the lower part of the right leg (15341541, black chalk, 34.2 x 26.2 cm) in The British Museum, London.
- Michelangelo’s fragmentary Study for the Last Judgment, 1534 (pencil on paper, 41.8 x 28.8 cm), Casa Buonarotti, Florence
- Michelangelo’s fragmentary sketch for The Last Judgment, ca. 1534, (pencil on paper, 34.5 x 29.1 cm), Musée Bonnat, Bayonne
- After Michelangelo or School of Michelangelo,The Last Judgment, 16th (black chalk, 27.2 x 43.3 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- Copy of a presumed lost modello for The Last Judgment (pen over black chalk,
56 x 42 cm), Courtauld Institute Galleries, Witt Collection, London
The Courtauld copy of Michelangelo’s presumed modello, which comes from the collection of Sir Peter Lely like the Metropolitan Museum drawing, is said to be a copy of the earliest known stage in design of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. Scholars have assumed that Pope Clement was presented with a large finished drawing of the composition, a modello, in the summer of 1534. According to Barnes, the two copies from the Metropolitan Museum and the Courtauld Institute “seem likely to represent that modello” (Barnes 1988, 242).
Yet the Courtauld copy greatly differs from the fresco and its final conception including the old Perugino’s altarpiece incorporated into the composition, marked as an empty rectangle in the drawing; the inclusion of St. Michael above it; no Charon and his boat and no Hell; the pleading posture of the Virgin situated away from Christ and the figure of Christ with raised arms suggesting a Resurrection rather than a Last Judgment etc. The raised arms of Christ might have been a later addition by a copyist as Hall wrote that “there is no evidence that the artist ever considered such a pose”. (Hall 2005, p. 6) Yet she also mentioned elsewhere in the book that “the subject of the Resurrection could well have been considered seriously when the project of painting the altar wall was revived in the 1530s.” There are also several studies for a Resurrection, and at least 4, and possible all 14, are dated around 1533.
Hall herself pointed out that “a precedent for the idealized, beardless Christ is also seen in these Resurrection drawings”. Was Michelangelo planning a Resurrection rather than a Last Judgment in the 1530s?
As mentioned above, in the Courtauld copy we do have Archangel Michael standing on top of an empty rectangular shape in the lower middle part of the composition. As we know, St. Michael was the symbol of judgment in medieval Last Judgments. The empty shape it is standing on is said to have been reserved for the altarpiece by Pietro Perugino, which was once part of in the Sistine Chapel’s quattrocento decorations that Michelangelo might have intended to retain. Perugino’s central altarpiece represented the Assumption of the Virgin. But would Archangel Michael be standing on top of an Assumption?
- Digital reconstruction of the altar wall in the Sistine Chapel with two original lunettes and Perugino’s Assumption of the Virgin and frescoes Finding of Moses and Adoration of the Shepherds
Michelangelo’s drawing in Casa Buonarroti also shows an empty rectangle in the lower part of the composition. The artist must have changed his mind and had the entire altar wall cleared and the lunettes (windows) bricked up. By placing Mary at Christ’s side in the final fresco Michelangelo might have made reference to the earlier altarpiece of the Assumption, probably destroyed, if it was executed in the fresco technique.
On the other hand, the empty space in the middle might have also been left for the altar and the baldachin which obscured that part of the wall, as shown in the engraving by E. Dupérac, ‘Maiestatis Pontificiae Dum in Capella Xisti Sacra Peraguntur Accurata Delineatio’, 1578 (34.4 x 37.8cm; etching and engraving coloured by hand), V&A Museum, London.
The baldachin was most probably the reason why there was a gap left in the fresco between Charon and the figures on the left.
- Dupérac, ‘Maiestatis Pontificiae Dum in Capella Xisti Sacra Peraguntur
Accurata Delineatio’, 1578, (34.4 x 37.8cm, etching and engraving coloured by hand), V&A Museum, London
VII. Written Records of Preparatory Drawings for the Fresco
There are some written records of Michelangelo’s drawings for the Last Judgment (see Appendix for details), including drawings of the entire composition.
We have a letter by Pietro Aretino (1492/3-1556), a contemporary of Michelangelo, an Italian author, playwright, poet, satirist and an outspoken critic, who wrote to Michelangelo in 1545 from Venice starting with the following words:
“Signor mio, Nel veder lo schizzo intiero di tutto il vostro di del giudizio (…).” (Gaye 1839-40) Translation: “Sir, when I inspected the entire sketch of the whole of your day of judgment…”.
Aretino then continued with a critical commentary on his work
“(…) I arrived at recognising the eminent graciousness of Raffaello in its agreeable beauty of invention. Meanwhile, as a baptized Christian, I blush before the license, so forbidden to man’s intellect, which you have used in expressing ideas connected with the highest aims and final ends to which our faith aspires”.
Another pen and brown ink preparatory drawing by Michelangelo most probably of the entire composition of the Last Judgment, was listed in the inventory of the artist Sir Thomas Lawrence’s (1769-1830) prestigious collection of drawings in London: “Michelangelo. A magnificent drawing highly finished of the Last Judgment executed in bistre [a brown-yellow ink], a most capital work. Another similar.”
A possible identification with the present drawing is uncertain as the support of parchment was not specified. This drawing has already been identified with another sketch in the Ashmolean Museum (55.3 × 40.7 cm, pen and ink with brown wash), although it is a copy.
- A copy of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, The Entire Composition (55.3 × 40.7 cm, pen and ink with brown wash), The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
There were other preparatory drawings for the Last Judgment by and after Michelangelo in the collection of King William II of the Netherlands, Prince of Orange (1792-1849) sold after his death in August 1850 at The Hague. Some of the drawings were executed in black chalk, others in pen and brown ink. The collection formed by King William II and his Russian wife Anna Pavlovna (1795-1865) was assembled during a period of about thirty years and contained many paintings of Old Masters as well as masterpieces on paper by the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Correggio, Van Dyck and Rubens. King William II bought many drawings by Michelangelo and other Old Masters from the collection of Sir Thomas Lawrence through the art dealer Samuel Woodburn. Woodburn sold the rest of the drawings to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
In the Catalogue des tableaux anciens et modernes, de diverses écoles, dessins et statues: formant la galerie de feu Sa Majesté Guillaume II, roi des Pays-Bas, Prince d’Orange-Nassau, (…) 12 août 1850 et jours suivants, au palais de feu sa Majesté, à la Haye by Vries, Jeronimo de, 1776-1853; Roos, Cornelis François; Brondgeest, Jean Albert, we find the following drawings listed:
“No. 103. Michel-Ange. Esquisse à la pierre d’Italie, pour le tableau représentant le jugement dernier. Translation: 103. “Michelangelo. Sketch in black chalk, for the painting depicting the last judgment”.
”No. 108. Michel-Ange, (d’après) Dessin au bistre, d’après la peinture à fresque le jugement dernier.” Translation: 108. Michelangelo (after), Drawing in brown ink, after the fresco painting of the Last Judgment. (this could be the same drawing from the
Thomas Lawrence’s collection)
“No. 114. Inconnu. Étude d’après le jugement dernier de Michel-Ange.”
Translation: 114. “Anonymous. Study after the Last Judgment by Michelangelo.”
“No. 119. Michel-Ange. Étude pour la peinture a fresque le jugement dernier; à la pierre d’Italie; d’un faire superbe.” Translation: 119. Michelangelo. Study for the fresco painting of The Last Judgment, in black chalk; superbly done.
VIII. Main Differences between the Drawing and the Fresco
The pen and ink drawing on parchment differs in terms of composition and many details from the fresco as well as the early engravings by Giorgio Ghisi (1520-1582), Giulio Bonasone (ca. 1498 – after 1574) and Niccolò della Casa (active ca. 1543-48). In the mid-1540s Giorgio Ghisi produced a large-scale engraving of the recently completed fresco of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo. Ghisi worked from Venusti’s drawings commissioned in 1541 by Cardinal Gonzaga, some earlier engravings and his own observations made on a visit to Rome. There were other popular early engravings by Giulio Bonasone in 1546–50 and others. All the early engravings correspond in terms of composition and details to the uncensored fresco, but differ from the present drawing. This indicates that the drawing was not copied from the fresco or the early engravings.
The most important difference is the figure of Charon, which in the present drawing is situated more centrally in the composition directly above a cave symbolizing Purgatory or Hell. In the fresco and in the early engravings, there is a large gap in that space, presumably left for the altar and the baldachin. Other differences with the fresco are – a more elongated composition; bearded and slimmer Christ; Virgin Mary with open eyes and situated closer to Him; more accentuated circular rings of figures around Christ and Virgin Mary (perhaps a reference to cosmology); the rays of light emanating from the two central figures, as a reference to Jesus as the Sun-God; tombstone below on the left; different Roman-type women with children in the top left corner; different position of St. Blaise; different position of the trumpets of the angels in the middle; different double gridiron held by St. Lawrence (more correctly depicted, unlike the single ladder-like one in the fresco) sitting on a stool, not a cloud; different St. Peter and the type of keys; St. Bartholomew shown more en face, not in profile; slimmer St. John the Baptist with an animal skin tied across his chest and various other figures and their positions.
- An early engraving of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment by Giorgio Ghisi, mid-1540s
- An engraving by Giulio Bonasone of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco, 1546–
Significantly, there are more figures in the background in the drawing than in the fresco, and some are completely different. The Roman-type, bareheaded women with children in the top left corner of the drawing are half-naked and completely different than the figures seen in the fresco. In the fresco, there is also a large central male figure, which in the drawing is a woman. A small man wearing a hat in the background in the drawing is replaced by an old woman with a head covering in the fresco etc. The devils in the lower part of the composition are also differently depicted and more numerous than in the fresco. In the drawing, there are three devils in a row pulling two ropes, compared to only two devils pulling one rope in the fresco and all the engravings, also later ones. In the drawing, there are also beautifully drawn clouds of smoke above the boat, a witness to the artist’s power of observation. The smoke does not feature in the fresco or the early engravings at all.
The central figures of Christ and Virgin Mary in the drawing are among the weakest in terms of conception and execution. This suggests that the idea of how to depict the central figures was not yet fully crystallized in the artist’s mind, and he was more concerned with the dramatic figures of the damned and saved souls.
- Different and more numerous figures around Christ and Mary in the drawing compared to the fresco
- Bearded and slimmer Christ and Mary with open eyes closer to Him
- Different Charon with drapery around the shoulders (as a pentimento in the fresco) and clouds of smoke behind
- Central position of Charon in the drawing, without the gap left for the altar and the baldachin
- Slimmer and naked St. John the Baptist with an animal skin, different half-naked women and a small man wearing a hat
- Completely different women with children in the top left corner
- Naked St. Peter with different keys; St. Barthelemy en face
- Three bearded old men in a row instead of two men and a younger woman/man
- Lawrence with a double gridiron sitting on a stool in the drawing
- Three devils pulling two ropes instead of two devils pulling one rope
- Different hands and feet of a devil carrying a man on his back
- Different devil with larger ears and claws with one hand in the mouth
- Different full-length devil with longer ears and larger face
- Younger Minos with smaller ears and wide-open eyes in the drawing
- A figure en face between the legs of a male figure in the drawing
- Two trumpets closer together in the drawing
- The attributes of the Passion of Christ including three nails and a scourge in the drawing (probably not original)
IX. Similarities between the Drawing and the Engravings
As previously mentioned, the present drawing corresponds in terms of the composition and many details to the engravings of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment by the Monogrammer CBS and Martino Rota, later copied by Leonard Gaultier, Johannes Wierix and others.
- Engraving by the Monogrammer CBS, Last Judgment, mid-16th c.
The engraving by the Monogrammer CBS (41.3 × 28.2 cm) is inscribed in the frame in the margin: “Hoc speculo genus humanum se spectat, et ante / Discat iter,per quod uitaqz, morsqz uenit. / Discat, ut è totis surgant rediuiua sepulchris / Corpora, quidqz Deo Iudice quenqz manet // Arte, colore, manu Bonaroti expressa tremendi / Hæc simulachra fori cerne, reuolue, paue./ Et si non animus, si mens non deficit; illo
/ Dic mihi quis nobis tempore sensuserit?”
It is also inscribed with ANT LAFRERI SEQVANI FORMIS and a monogram CBS. The monogram reproduces the initials of Cornelis Bos or Bossche (1506/10 – 1555), a Flemish engraver, printseller and book publisher known for his accurate engravings of Italian works. The decorative frame is an important feature of the painting and would seem to point in the direction of Flanders.
According to Alessia Alberti in her volume D’Après Michelangelo Il. La Fortuna di Michelangelo nelle Stampe del Cinquecento, among all the engravings that show Michelangelo’s portrait at the age of 73 (this includes prints by Rota, Gaultier, Wierix and others) this is the only one that in style and the way Lafreri’s mention is expressed, is compatible with a mid-century date (Alberti 2015, 89). This group of works also has other iconographic details in common, such as the presence of a tomb in the lower left-hand corner, the completely hatched background and the large cloud behind the figures in the right foreground. According to Alberti, they could all be traced back to a single prototype either the Monogrammer’s engraving or a drawing as a common source.
The engraving by Martino Rota (1520-1583), dated 1569 (32 x 23 cm) was one of the most popular engravings of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, despite the clear differences with the fresco in the Sistine Chapel. Rota reproduced in the print the complete composition and dedicated it to Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy (15281580), one of the most ardent and combative promoters of the Counter-Reformation. The engraving is inscribed in plate on the lower left ‘SERMO. EMANUELI PHILIBERTO SABAUDLÆ DUCI. D’, ‘1569’, V&A, London.
Martino Rota was an artist from Dalmatia (Croatia), mainly known for his printmaking. He copied in miniature a number of works by Michelangelo and was active in Florence and Rome between 1564 and 1569. During 1569 and partly in 1570 Rota resided in Rome, where he most probably saw Michelangelo’s fresco which was then already subjected to the first corrective interventions by Volterra. Although the date 1569 on the engraving postdates the corrections and additions by Volterra, they are not found in the engraving, which shows the figures with their original nudity. This indicates that Rota’s engraving was based on an earlier drawing, now lost, not the fresco before the corrections or earlier engravings. The format of this engraving is the smallest of all graphic reproductions of the Last Judgment, and the proportions have been changed in favour of a more upright composition. Longer proportions resulted in the thickening of the figures vertically and the compacting of the groups. At the same time, the figures are slightly thinner both in Rota’s and the other engravings of this type as well as in the present drawing.
The engravings based on Rota’s print are similar in most, but not all details with the drawing, but different from the fresco. The most obvious difference is the inclusion of
Michelangelo’s oval-portrait inscribed as aged 73 at the top of the composition, indicating the date of 1548. In the present drawing, however, this part is most probably not original as there is a difference in the colour and the quality of execution. Other similarities between Rota’s engraving and the present drawing are the comparable Christ and Virgin Mary; the comparable and more numerous as well as simplified figures in the background forming a circle around them; no gap between the figure of Charon and the devil on the left; similar position of St. Catherine and St. Blaise; St. John the Baptist with an animal skin tied across his chest; similar naked women on the left on the top; St. Lawrence with a double gridiron etc.
Another engraving of this type by Leonard Gaultier (1561-1641) was based on Rota’s print (31.1 × 23.2 cm) and is signed on the lower left leonardus gaultier fecit. It follows Rota’s engraving in most details. Leonard Gaultier was a French engraver born at Mainz about 1561, who died in Paris in 1641. He most likely never saw the fresco by Michelangelo, but copied Rota’s print.
The closest similarities in terms of details are between the present drawing and an engraving by Johannes Wierix (Antwerp 1549-ca. 1620 Brussels), dated either to the end of 16th c./beginning of the 17th c. (the print in the V&A collections, London) or 1549-before 1579 (the print in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), also copied from Rota’s engraving. Johannes Wierix was a Flemish engraver, draughtsman and publisher also known for his miniature pen drawings on parchment. During his residence in Brussels, Wierix made a number of such drawings on vellum, which are all signed and dated mostly around 1607–1608.
We have a miniature drawing of the Last Judgment by Wierix signed MICHAEL ANGELVS / INVETOR IEHAN W F, which will be discussed in Chapter XII. It was probably made after or for the engraving of the same subject by Wierix. His engraving differs in some small details from the engravings by Rota and Gaultier, but agrees with the present drawing. These details include: a man seen between the legs of another man on the right facing the viewer rather than seen from the back; similar position of Virgin Mary’s fingers; St. Peter’s similar keys; the third man behind St. Peter older and bearded; Charon with shorter ears.
- Engraving by Martino Rota after Michelangelo’s Last Judgment inscribed EMANUELI PHILIBERTO SABAUDLÆ DUCI. D 1569, V&A Museum, London.
- Similarities in the composition between the uncut drawing and the engraving by Martino
- Engraving by Leonard Gaultier after Martino Rota after Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, ca. 1561-1641, signed leonardus gaultier fecit
- Engraving by Johannes Wierix after Martino Rota after Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, inscribed Iohan Wirings caelavit, late 16th – early 17th century, V&A Museum, London
- The composition of the uncut drawing compared to the narrower engraving by Wierix
- Similar Christ and Mary in the drawing and Wierix’s (top right) and Rota’s engravings
- Comparable more numerous and simplified figures in the drawing and the engravings by Rota and Wierix
- Similar Charon in his boat in Wierix’s engraving
- No gap between the figure of Charon and the devil in Rota’s engraving
- Similar St. Catherine and St. Blaise in Wierix’s engraving
- Similar St. John the Baptist in Wierix’s engraving
- Similar bareheaded and half-naked women in Rota’s engraving
- Similar half-naked women in Wierix’s and Rota’s (bottom) engravings
- Similar St. Lawrence with double gridiron and three old men in Wierix’s engraving
- Similar hands and feet of the devil carrying a man on his back in Wierix’s and Rota’s engravings
- Similar but not identical devil with larger claws and one hand in the mouth in Wierix’s and Rota’s engravings (bottom)
- The expressive and dramatic devil seen in the UV light
- A similar full-length reclining devil in Wierix’s and Rota’s engravings
- Masterful clouds of smoke above Charon’s boat in the UV light
- A small figure en face rather than from behind between the legs of another figure in Wierix’s engraving (top right)
X. Differences between the Drawing and the Engravings
Despite these similarities, there are also many differences between the drawing and the engravings based on Rota’s print, which indicates that it was not copied from any of them.
There are three devils pulling two ropes in the drawing as compared to only two devils pulling one rope in the fresco and all the engravings, including the earlier ones. The man seen from the back holding the cross in the top left corner has an extended leg in the drawing (although it is probably not original) unlike elsewhere.
Christ is bearded and older looking. There are differently and much better drawn clouds of smoke compared to the weaker rendering in Rota’s or Wierix’s prints. The younger looking Minos has thicker lips and wide-open eyes. The inscription around the oval portrait of Michelangelo (probably not original though) in the middle has the word Patricius missing. There is a small cross in the lower middle part of the composition next to a resurrected man not found in any of the engravings.
- Three devils pulling two ropes instead of two devils pulling one rope as in all the engravings and the fresco
- Three devils pulling two ropes seen in the UV light
- The man on the cross from the back with an extended leg (not original)
- A bearded and older looking Christ compared to Wierix’s younger Christ
- More masterfully and differently drawn clouds compared with Wierix’s engraving
- A younger Minos with thicker lips and wide-open eyes (top left) compared to Wierix’s and Rota’s engravings and the fresco
- The inscription without the word Patricius (not original) compared to Wierix
- A cross not found in any of the engravings and the fresco
XI. A Lost Preparatory Drawing for the Engravings
It is clear that the pen and ink drawing on parchment and the engravings by Rota, Gaultier and Wierix are quite similar, but different from the fresco and the earlier engravings by Bonasone, della Casa and Ghisi. Yet these late engravings were always listed in the literature as ‘copies of Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel’, despite the differences with the fresco and the more ‘archaic’ type of composition. It has not been properly investigated why these popular engravings were so different.
Only Milan Pelc asked (in Croatian) why “completely arbitrarily or perhaps according to a hitherto unknown model/design, he [Martino Rota] deviates from both the original and Bonasone’s and Ghisi’s engravings”. (Pelc 1993)
Pelc thought that Rota and others probably did not have authentic drawings of the fresco after it was corrected by Volterra, and therefore adhered to an earlier drawing. According to him, the only such drawing recorded in literature was that of the Venetian priest called Bazzacco, mentioned by Pietro Aretino in 1546 writing from Venice in a letter to his friend the engraver Enea Vico in Florence.
This was Giovanni Battista Ponchini, known as “Bazzacco” or “Bozzato”
(Castelfranco Veneto, 1510s – before 1577). Little is known of Ponchini’s Roman activity, except for his important graphic work depicting the Last Judgment by
Michelangelo, mentioned in Pietro Aretino’s letter to Enea Vico, in which the first exhorted the other to finish an engraving based on the drawings of Ponchini. It can be hypothesized that at the beginning of the 1540s, Vico and Ponchini collaborated to reproduce Michelangelo’s Last Judgment engraved on copper. Presumably, Vico later abandoned the project, while Ponchini tried to carry it out, so much so that on 12 June 1569 he hosted Cosimo Bartoli, Alessandro Vittoria and
Giovanni Antonio Rusconi in his house outside Padua to show them the “black pencil cartoon” (“cartone di matita nera”) of the Last Judgment.
It is perhaps significant that he showed them another drawing of The Fall of the Rebel Angels that he also wanted to engrave. (Hochmann 2004, 304) This seems to recall Michelangelo’s early project for Pope Julius II mentioned before. Has Ponchini copied Michelangelo’s early preparatory drawings made for Pope Julius II for the Sistine Chapel?
There is a letter from Cosimo Bartoli writing to Giorgio Vasari on 12 June 1569 talking about Ponchini’s drawing:
“ll quale [Ponchini] ha fatto un cartone di matita nera, grande un braccio e mezo o dua di alteza, nel quale ha fatto uno giudizio a modo di Michelagnolo, ma diuersissimo da quello con figure di un palmo ouero un sommesso, tanto bello, con tanti belli ignudi, con tante belle attitudini, con tanti belli scorci (…)”.
Translation: “He [Ponchini] made a cartoon in black pencil, an arm and a half or two high, in which he made a judgment in the manner of Michelagnolo, but very different from that one, with figures of a palm or rather sommesso [an old measure of length equal to a clenched fist with an outstretched thumb], so beautiful, with so many beautiful ignudi, with so many beautiful attitudes, with so many beautiful views (…)”. Immediately afterwards Bartoli specifies that “He plans to have them [the Last Judgment and two other subjects] engraved in copper“, and one can infer that at that time, in the summer of 1569, the graphic project had not yet found an engraver. (Alberti 2015, 81)
Martino Rota could have seen this drawing through the mediation of Cosimo Bartoli, a Florentine diplomat and scholar with whom he was in direct contact, for he also portrayed him a few months earlier. Bartoli saw Bazzacco’s drawing in June 1569 and became very interested in buying it. We do not know, however, if he succeeded and whether that drawing had anything to do with Rota’s engraving.
We were able to establish that it was Giovanni Battista Ponchini’s patron in Rome, Cardinal Francesco Corner (Cornaro) (1478-1543), who commissioned a copy of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo. The following information was found in a letter dated 1541 after the fresco was unveiled, from the Mantuan envoy to the papal court, Nino Sernini, who wrote to Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga:
“But the reverend [Cardinal] Cornaro, who was there a long time to look at the fresco put it well, saying that if Michelangelo would give him a painting of only one of those figures he would pay him whatever he asked, and he is right, because to my mind one cannot see these things anywhere else. The said Cardinal has one of his painters there continuously copying it, and although he doesn’t waste one minute he will not finish the entire work in less than four months.” (Hall 2005, 121)
If the copyist was Ponchini, as one can suspect, which hypothesis was also confirmed by Michael Hochmann, Ponchini copied directly from the fresco and thus the engraving by Rota, which deviates from it, could not have been based on his drawing. (Hochmann 2004, 299) However, Bartoli wrote in his letter to Vasari that the drawing by Ponchini was “very different from that one [the fresco]”. Yet the artist who copied the fresco in the Vatican for Cardinal Cornaro over many months would not have changed it.
To have served as a model for Martino Rota’s engraving, Ponchini’s drawing must have looked similar to the present drawing, which would confirm the latter’s historical credentials. Can the present drawing as well as the engravings by Rota and others be described as “very different” from the fresco though? This still does not explain why the drawing by Ponchini was so different from Michelangelo’s fresco and what was it based on?
It is surely unlikely that Rota and other engravers would have engraved Ponchini’s “very different” drawing as Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine chapel and publish it as such.
XII. A Miniature Drawing by Johannes Wierix in the Royal Library, Brussels
We have another witness to this type of composition of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo, a much smaller pen and brown ink drawing on parchment (16.8 x 11.9 cm) by Johannes Wierix (Antwerp 1549 – ca. 1620 Brussels), now in The Royal Library, Brussels.
The drawing was inscribed by the artist around the bust portrait of Michelangelo in an oval MICHAEL ANGELV BONAROTVS PATRICIVS FLOREN AN AGEN and signed on a slab of stone in lower left corner MICHAEL ANGELVS / INVETOR IEHAN W F. It is considered as preparatory to his engraving of the Last Judgment, although it differs from it in a number of details. The miniature drawing by Johannes Wierix is considerably smaller than the present drawing, decorative in style, mannered and timid as well as highly finished. Unlike the present drawing, it is signed, but not dated. Wierix’s composition is more upright and narrower, when compared to the drawing and the three engravings.
In terms of the technique, Wierix’s pen and ink drawing on parchment was executed in a meticulous manner using dots and minute crosshatching, as an engraver would do. The miniature careful drawing lacks the present drawing’s dynamic, spontaneous, sketchy and dramatic character as well as its powerful emotional impact revealed by the UV images. The conventional and weaker execution of the details in Wierix’s miniature including the unimaginative clouds of smoke seems to point to another hand. There are also many differences of details between the two drawings.
In Wierix’s drawing we have two devils instead of three; Christ is differently proportioned and younger; and Virgin Mary has closed eyes and a different position of hands and is situated further away from Christ. We also have a different tombstone with Wierix’s signature and a small head inside, while the man above it who lifts the slab in the drawing was seemingly misunderstood by the artist, as no slab is present despite a similar crouching position. The figure of Charon is wrongly proportioned. We have a complete inscription with the word Patricius and Wierix’s drawing has a firmly drawn frame around it as in an engraving, unlike in the present drawing which is open. The fresco in the Sistine Chapel had no frame either.
- Comparison with Wierix’s smaller and detailed pen and ink drawing on parchment (scale 1:1 approx.)
- The detailed miniature pen and ink drawing on parchment by Johannes Wierix (16.8 x
11.9 cm), The Royal Library, Brussels
- Wierix’s signature on the tombstone in the lower left corner of the miniature
- Comparison of the two drawings (not to scale) with narrower and more compact and meticulous execution in Wierix (right)
- Different position of St. Blaise’s right arm and the man’s holding the cross
- Differently proportioned and younger Christ and Mary with closed eyes further away from her Son
- Two devils side by side instead of three
- Wrongly proportioned Charon with a smaller oar and drapery in Wierix’s drawing
- More conventional clouds of smoke in Wierix (below)
XIII. An Anonymous Drawing in the Royal Collection, Windsor
There is an anonymous drawing of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo, ca. 15361564 (32 x 23.2 cm, pen and ink and brown wash on a light brown paper squared in black chalk) in The Royal Collection, Windsor. This detailed drawing, which is more schematic than the present drawing also shows the entire composition of the fresco in its uncensored state, before the corrections by Volterra.
According to the Royal Collection website, the drawing was probably made in preparation for the engraving by Martino Rota, as the size of the drawing and the shape of the pinnacle correspond to Rota’s engraving. Charon is more centrally located than in the fresco similarly to Rota’s print.
However, upon close examination we can see that the drawing in Windsor reflects the early fresco before Volterra’s corrections – not Rota’s engraving. There are many differences between the drawing and Rota’s print – two figures at the top instead of Michelangelo’s portrait; St. Lawrence with a single gridiron; St. Blaise in a different position; the missing tomb on the left; the trumpets further away from each other; St.
John the Baptist without the animal skin etc.
- An anonymous drawing after Michelangelo’s fresco, ca. 1536-1564, pen and ink and brown wash (32 x 23.2 cm) on paper, The Royal Collection, Windsor.
- Comparison with the drawing in Windsor (right, top and bottom)
XIV. An Illuminated Miniature by Circle of Giulio Clovio in the Casa Buonarroti, Florence
There is yet another witness to Michelangelo’s early composition of the Last Judgment, also on parchment, but in the tempera technique. It is a similarly-sized as the three engravings (32 x 23 cm) illuminated miniature by the Circle of Giulio Clovio (Grizane 1498 – Rome 1578), ca. 1570, now in the Casa Buonarroti, Florence.
The miniature illumination also displays a number of similarities with the present drawing and the three engravings, but also some differences. The main difference is the prominent God the Father in the center at the top, more in line with Venusti’s copy of the fresco, instead of the portrait of Michelangelo.
Giulio Clovio (Grizane 1498 – 1578 Rome) an artist from Dalmatia like his compatriot
Martino Rota, was an admirer and copyist of Michelangelo’s work. In the 1540s he was at the service of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in Rome, and part of a circle of intellectuals and admirers of Michelangelo. As we have already mentioned, it was Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who commissioned the painted copy of the Last Judgment by Marcello Venusti, and an engraving of the fresco by Giulio Bonasone.
It is likely that Martino Rota also attended the Farnese circle and knew Clovio’s illuminated miniature. Moreover, Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589 Rome), an Italian cardinal and diplomat and a great collector and patron of the arts was Pope Paul III’s grandson. Hypothetically, Alessandro might have inherited Michelangelo’s early designs for the Last Judgment from his grandfather the Pope, and both Clovio and Rota might have seen it in his collection and copied it.
There is another possibility which could perhaps explain the connection between
Clovio’s miniature and Rota’s engraving, as both were probably based on a common prototype – a drawing or a painted modello. We know that the illuminated miniature by Clovio was part of the Medici family collections that Vittoria della Rovere (16271694) brought as a dowry to Ferdinando II dei Medici on the occasion of their marriage in 1633. At the time of her birth Vittoria della Rovere was the only heir to the entire bloodline, and inherited the entire collection of the della Rovere family. Vittoria was the direct descendant of Francesco Maria I della Rovere (14901538), who was the nephew of Giuliano della Rovere, or Pope Julius II. Julius II was
Francesco’s main political ally and in 1509 the latter was appointed as capitano generale (commander-in-chief) of the Papal States. We also know that the earliest drawings and cartoons for Pope Julius II’s project in the Sistine Chapel were offered by Michelangelo to Julius II’s natural daughter, Felice della Rovere. They might have also been inherited by Vittoria della Rovere. Hypothetically, the miniature associated with Giulio Clovio in Vittoria’s collection and his compatriot Martino Rota’s engraving might have been copied from Michelangelo’s early designs from the collection of Felice della Rovere.
- Comparison of the drawing and the illuminated miniature by the Circle of Giulio
- Circle of Giulio Clovio after Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, 1570, Casa Buonarroti, Florence
- A similar devil with one hand in the mouth and larger claws and another similar devil reclining in the drawing and the Clovio miniature
- Similar position of St. Blaise with open eyes and naked St. Catherine
- Similar half-naked and bareheaded women in the top left corner
- Similar but not identical Roman-type women in the top left corner
- God the Father instead of the portrait of Michelangelo in the top part of the composition in Clovio
- Two devils with different horns instead of three and another Minos
- The missing tombstone
- Christ with smooth hair a halo and a different type of beard
- A younger third man behind St. Peter and different keys
- An angel with a stick and sponge instead of a spear in Clovio
XV. Comparison with Michelangelo’s drawing of Grotesque Heads
There is a drawing by Michelangelo and pupils, Grotesque Heads, ca. 1525-1530s (red chalk, 26 x 41 cm) in the Stadelsches Kunstintitut, Franckfurt, which displays similarities with some figures in the present drawing. These include: a comparable male figure wearing a hat behind the women on the top left not found elsewhere including all the engravings and the illuminated miniature; a similar woman seen from below; a devil with the type of upturned horns not found in any of the engravings and the miniature; a frightened young man with a downturned mouth as if about to cry.
- Michelangelo and pupils, Grotesque heads, 1525-1530s (red chalk, 26 x 41 cm), Stadelsches Kunstintitut, Frankfurt
- A similar small man in a hat in Frankfurt (top right) not found in the fresco or any of the engravings
- A comparable woman shown from below in Frankfurt (top right)
- A comparable frightened man with a downturned mouth in Frankfurt (top left)
- A comparable devil with upturned horns in Frankfurt
We have been studying this unique and hitherto unpublished pen and brown ink drawing on parchment both in terms of high quality and historical importance within
Michelangelo’s oeuvre. The dynamic and fluid execution, the dramatic expression as well as the power of invention revealed in the UV light attest to the drawing’s originality and authenticity. This exceptional drawing is also valuable because unlike any other extant drawing by Michelangelo it shows the entire composition of the Last Judgment. It also displays many differences with the fresco in terms of the composition, higher number and different types of figures as well as other details. This shows that it was not copied from the fresco or the early engravings, but was an original design.
The first hypothesis is that the drawing shows Michelangelo’s early design for the Last Judgment made for Pope Julius II, in the years 1512-1513. This is indicated by similarities with the hatching pen and ink technique seen in Michelangelo’s early pen and ink drawings. The existence of this early project under Julius II was mentioned in
Giorgio Vasari’s writings and was confirmed by modern scholarship. The second hypothesis was formulated by a 17th c. French inscription on the verso, which states that the drawing “was made in Michelangelo’s 60th year”, which would be in 15331534, under Pope Clement VII, and before the fresco was executed in 1536-1541.
We also have some additional evidence in the popular mid-16th and early 17th c. engravings after Michelangelo’s Last Judgment similar to the present drawing in terms of composition and details, but different from the fresco. They were based on a lost drawing by or after Michelangelo and further confirm the historical credentials of the present drawing. Another similar composition by Michelangelo was recorded in an illuminated miniature on parchment attributed to the Circle of Giulio Clovio (1498-
1578), a skilled 16th-century miniaturist and copyist of Michelangelo’s works. This evidence also confirms the present drawing’s authenticity.
The pen and ink drawing on parchment was examined on 9 December 2020 by Prof. Tomasz Kozielec, Head of the Department of Conservation and Restoration of Paper and Leather at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in
Toruń. The examination lasted about 2.5 hours in the presence of, among others, Prof. Juliusz A. Chrościcki. Numerous (about 30) high resolution photographs were taken under the microscope. Prof. Kozielec stressed that in view of the small format of the work a remarkable meticulousness of the miniature representation is noteworthy. In the microscopic enlargements of the order of 7-45 times, the details of the figures and objects represented in the drawing (e.g. the boat) are clearly visible. In some cases whole or almost whole figures fit into the field of view at 7 x magnification representation – so miniature is their depiction.
According to Prof. Kozielec, the drawing was executed by an excellent hand. First of all, the following features are striking:
- the use of a tool (pen) with a very precise tip; excellent control over the liquid medium of ink used, with care taken to ensure that it does not flow off the tool and does not form thickened lines and blobs;
- the evidence of great drawing skills of the artist: the delicacy of the line, the “softness” and freedom of drawing, taking care of precise execution of the details of the representation.
The parchment on the opposite side (verso) is strongly yellowed. It shows traces of the animal’s veins. The visual features of the drawing (recto) visible with the naked eye as well as under a microscope, indicate that the parchment surface has been carefully smoothed before the drawing was applied. This surface looks as if it was gelatinised. It is possible that it has been covered with some kind of transparent substance, which prevented the surface from soaking the ink into the parchment structure. An example of such a substance in the history of using parchment for drawing, painting or writing texts was gelatine (with additives).
On the basis of the colour and appearance of the ink under the microscope, Prof.
Kozielec suggested that it is most likely a metal-tannin ink (iron gall ink). Unfortunately, there is clearly a disturbing breaking of the ink from the parchment surface and there are also some symptoms of fading of the ink (changes of colour from black or black-brown towards brown). This is an important point for the conservation team, which in future will be dealing with the protection and conservation of this fascinating drawing.
Prof. Kozielec stressed that the drawing should be placed under conservation care. It is necessary to create a preventive care programme for it, including appropriate protective packaging, and to ensure stable storage conditions. Unfortunately, parchment is a very sensitive material to humidity and temperature changes, which, among other things, will result in the separation of the ink layer from the support and gradual loss of the drawing (crumbling).
Apart from the ink under the microscope, the presence of another medium which resembles traces of a graphite pencil was noted. These traces are located in some areas of the drawing and accompany (fragmentarily) the lines made with ink.
The above remarks indicate that this object requires further research including the dating of the parchment. Of course, the priority is to carry out non-destructive and contactless tests.
Another analysis of the object presented for testing was performed on 30.01.2021 in the place of its storage place by Dr. Tomasz Łojewski, form the Faculty of Materials Science and Ceramics, AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow
(Wydział Inżynierii Materiałowej i Ceramiki Akademii Górniczo-Hutniczej w Krakowie). After getting acquainted with the object, registrations and tests were carried out using three methods. These were: imaging using the technique of polynomial texture maps, measurement of light fastness using the micropedometry technique and multispectral imaging. (See Annexe)
Historical records of preparatory drawings for The Last Judgment
1. Vasari’s records of Michelangelo’s drawings and cartoons for The Last Judgment
There is ample historical evidence of the existence of preparatory cartoons and drawings by Michelangelo at the time of the commission by Pope Clement VII. Additional evidence can be gathered from a proposed new translation such as the fact that Michelangelo might have ordered preparatory drawings and cartoons from other artists or his pupils.
Giorgio Vasari, who wrote the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects published in 1550 and 1568, was living at that time in close intimacy with Michelangelo, enjoyed his confidence and had no reason to distort the truth so his account is trustworthy. The first mention of the Last Judgment refers to the period before 1533 or 1534, when Pope Clement VII died:
“(…) at that very time the Pope [Clement] took it into his head to have him [Michelangelo] near his person, being desirous to have the walls of the Chapel of Sixtus painted, where Michelagnolo had painted the vaulting for Julius II, his nephew. On the principal wall, where the altar is, Clement wished him to paint the Universal Judgment, to the end that he might display in that scene all that the art of design could achieve, and opposite to it, on the other wall, over the principal door, he had commanded that he should depict the scene when Lucifer was expelled for his pride from Heaven, and all those Angels who sinned with him were hurled after him into the centre of Hell: of which inventions it was found that Michelagnolo many years before had made various sketches and designs, one of which was afterwards carried into execution in the Church of the Trinità at Rome by a Sicilian painter, who stayed many months with Michelagnolo, to serve him and to grind his colours. This work, painted in fresco, is in the Chapel of S. Gregorio, in the cross of the church, and, although it is executed badly, there is a certain variety and terrible force in the attitudes and groups of those nudes that are raining down from Heaven, and of the others who, having fallen into the centre of the earth, are changed into various forms of Devils, very horrible and bizarre; and it is certainly an extraordinary fantasy.
While Michelagnolo was directing the preparation of the designs and cartoons of the Last Judgment on the first wall,
[Proposed new translation: “While Michelangelo gave orders to make these drawings and cartoons for the first wall of the Judgment…”
…he never ceased for a single day to be at strife with the agents of the Duke of Urbino, by whom he was accused of having received sixteen thousand crowns from Julius II for the tomb.“ (…) In this contract that was made with the Duke of Urbino, his Excellency consented that Michelagnolo should be at the disposal of Pope Clement for four months in the year, either in Florence or wherever he might think fit to employ him. But, although it seemed to Michelagnolo that at last he had obtained some peace, he was not to be quit of it so easily, for Pope Clement, desiring to see the final proof of the force of his art, kept him occupied with the cartoon of the
[Proposed new translation: …”made him attend to the cartoon of the Judgment”]
In the year 1533 [should be 1534] came the death of Pope Clement, whereupon the work of the library and sacristy in Florence, which had remained unfinished in spite of all the efforts made to finish it, was stopped. Then, at length, Michelagnolo thought to be truly free and able to give his attention to finishing the tomb of Julius II. But [Pope] Paul III, not long after his election, had him summoned to his presence, and, besides paying him compliments and making him offers, requested him to enter his service and remain near his person. (…)
The Pope, who wished to have some extraordinary work executed by Michelagnolo, went one day with ten Cardinals to visit him at his house (…) And after seeing the designs and cartoons that he was preparing for the wall of the chapel, which appeared to the Pope to be stupendous, he again besought Michelagnolo with great insistence that he should enter his service.
Michelagnolo resolved, since he could not do otherwise, to serve Pope Paul, who allowed him to continue the work as ordered by Clement, without changing anything in the inventions and the general conception that had been laid before him,
thus showing respect for the genius of that great man, for whom he felt such reverence and love that he sought to do nothing but what pleased him; of which a proof was soon seen. (…)
But I will not go into the particulars of the invention and composition of this scene, because so many copies of it, both large and small, have been printed, that it does not seem necessary to lose time in describing it. (…)
[Proposed new translation: “I will not go into the particulars of the invention or composition of this story/scene, because so many had copied/drew it & printed it, large & small…”]
Michelagnolo had already carried to completion more than three-fourths of the work, when Pope Paul went to see it.”
There is also some evidence in Vasari’s writings that Pope Julius II ordered Michelangelo to paint the entire Sistine Chapel, including the walls, thus the altar wall, at the time of painting the Sistine ceiling:
“Ma pure per commissione del papa et ordine di Giulian da San Gallo fu mandato a Bologna per esso (Michelangelo); e venuto che e ‘fu, ordinò il Papa che tal cappella facesse, e tutte le facciate con la volta si rifacessero; e per prezzo d ‘ogni cosa vi misero il numero di Xv mila ducati. “
This fragment was translated into English as:
“He then set his hand to making the cartoons for that vaulting; and the Pope decided, also, that the walls which the masters before him in the time of Sixtus had painted should be scraped clean, and decreed that he should have fifteen thousand ducats for the whole cost of the work; which price was fixed through Giuliano da San Gallo. Thereupon, forced by the magnitude of the undertaking to resign himself to obtaining assistance, Michelagnolo sent for men to Florence.”
One part of it should be translated as:
“(…) the Pope [Julius II] ordered that this chapel be redone, and all the walls with the vault should be remade”
Vasari. Le Vite…
- Pietro Aretino’s letter of 1545
Historical evidence of a drawing by or after Michelangelo showing the entire composition of The Last Judgment can be found in a letter of Pietro Aretino written from Venice in 1545 to Michelangelo in Rome published in Carteggio inedito d’artisti dei secoli XIV. XV. XVI. pubblicato ed illustrato con documenti pure inediti dal dott.
Giovanni Gaye. Firenze: Presso G. Molini, 1839-40:
Nel veder lo schizzo intiero di tutto il vostro di del giudizio (…). “
[Translation: “My lord, seeing the whole sketch of your day of judgment…”]
More information on Pietro Aretino and the drawing of the entire Last Judgment can be found in John Addington Symonds, The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti based on studies in the archives of the Buonarroti family at Florence, 1910, Vol. 2:
“While thus engaged upon his fresco, Michelangelo received a letter, dated Venice, September 15, 1537, from that rogue of genius, Pietro Aretino. It opens in the strain of hyperbolical compliment and florid rhetoric which Aretino affected when he chose to flatter. (…) Thus we find him writing in January 1546 to the engraver Enea Vico, bestowing high praise upon a copper-plate which a certain Bazzacco had made from the Last Judgment, but criticising the picture as “licentious and likely to cause scandal with the Lutherans, by reason of its immodest exposure of the nakedness of persons of both sexes in heaven and hell.” It is not clear what Aretino expected from Enea Vico. A reference to the Duke of Florence seems to indicate that he wished to arouse suspicions among great and influential persons regarding the religious and moral quality of Michelangelo’s work.
This malevolent temper burst out at last in one of the most remarkable letters we possess of his. It was obviously intended to hurt and insult Michelangelo as much as lay within his power of innuendo and direct abuse. The invective offers so many points of interest with regard to both men, that I shall not hesitate to translate it here in full.
“Sir, when I inspected the complete sketch of the whole of your Last
Judgment, I arrived at recognising the eminent graciousness of
Raffaello in its agreeable beauty of invention. Meanwhile, as a baptized Christian, I blush before the license, so forbidden to man’s intellect, which you have used in expressing ideas connected with the highest aims and final ends to which our faith aspires. “
- The Inventory of the Collection of drawings by Old Masters formed by Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A.
Transcribed by the Committee of the Burlington Fine Arts Club from a MS in the Library of the Club, 1927:
“23. 20. A magnificent drawing highly finished of the Last Judgment executed in bistre, a most capital work. Another similar.”
It is not impossible that it is our drawing, except that it is not specified if it was on parchment.
- The Last Judgment drawings by and after Michelangelo in the collection of King William II of the Netherlands
A few drawings of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo and copyists were recorded in the celebrated collection of King William II, Prince of Orange, sold after his death in August 1850 at his The Hague palace. The collection formed by King William II of the Netherlands (1792-1849) and his Russian wife Anna Pavlovna (1795-1865) was assembled during a period of about 30 years and contained many paintings of Old Masters as well as masterpieces on paper by the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Correggio, Van Dyck and Rubens.
Catalogue des tableaux anciens et modernes, de diverses écoles, dessins et statues: formant la galerie de feu Sa Majesté Guillaume II, roi des Pays-Bas, Prince d’Orange-Nassau, (…) 12 août 1850 et jours suivants, au palais de feu sa Majesté, à la Haye by Vries, Jeronimo de, 1776-1853; Roos, Cornelis François; Brondgeest, Jean Albert. P. 149 :
- Michel-Ange. Esquisse a la pierre d’Italie, pour le tableau représentant le jugement dernier. [Transl. 103. Michelangelo. Sketch in black chalk, for the painting representing the last judgement]
- Michel-Ange, (d’après) Dessin au bistre, d’après la peinture a fresque »le jugement dernier.” [Transl. 108. Michelangelo (after), Drawing in brown ink, after the fresco painting “The Last Judgement”]
- INCONNU. Étude d’après »le jugement dernier” de Michel-Ange.
[Transl. Anonymous. Study after « the last judgement » by Michelangelo]
- 119. Michel-Ange. Étude pour la peinture a fresque «le jugement dernier;” à la pierre d’Italie; d’un faire superbe. [Transl. 119. Study for the fresco painting “last judgement”, black chalk, superbly done]
King William II bought many drawings by Michelangelo and other Old Masters from the prestigious British collection of Sir Thomas Lawrence, through the art dealer Samuel Woodburn. Woodburn sold the rest of the drawings to the Ashmolean
Museum in Oxford. The pen and ink drawing of The Last Judgment (listed as No.
- 108. Michel-Ange, (d’après) Dessin au bistre, d’après la peinture a fresque “le jugement dernier.”), which might interest us due to its pen and brown ink technique, was purchased by Chapman Israel Enthoven, a Hague antique dealer as annotated by hand on the 1850 sale catalogue.
Jeronimo de Vries, Catalogue des tableaux anciens et modernes, de diverses écoles, dessins et statues: formant la galerie de feu Sa Majesté Guillaume II, roi des Pays-Bas, Prince d’Orange-Nassau, The Hague, 1776-1853
- Archival and sale records of The Last Judgment by or after Michelangelo (Getty provenance Index)
|Document||Archival Inventory I-1030, Item 0098 (Damasceni)|
|Transcription||f.595 Un quadro del Giudizio di Michel Angelo Cornice|
|Artist Name(s)||MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (Italian), copy after from inventory: Michel Angelo|
|Owner Name(s)||Damasceni, Angelo, Monsignor|
|Object Title/Description||Giudizio universale|
|Subject [Iconclass]||Last Judgement [11U]|
|Date or Range||4 February 1645|
|Document Origin||Rome, Italy|
|Residence||Casa al Corso|
|Room||3ª Stanza della Scaletta|
Document Archival Inventory I-229, Page 2, Item 0018 (Tuttavilla)
Transcription Giudizio Universale di palmi 4 1/2 e 5 1/2 con cornice dorata copia di una carta di Michelangelo
Artist Name(s) MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (Italian), copy after
Owner Name(s) Tuttavilla, Vincenzo, Duca di Calabritto
Object Type Pittura
Date or Range 30 January 1679
Document Origin Naples, Italy
Room Nella Camera del Signor Andrea medico
See Also Inventory Description
There was a painting on panel representing The Last Judgment by Michelangelo owned by Cesarini Sforza, Giuseppe I Sforza, Duca di Marsi on 7 September 1744 in his Palazzo in Via dei Banchi Vecchi, Rome. The size was 4 palmi by 3, the equivalent of (84 x 63 cm).
Document Archival Inventory I-1046, Item 0194 (Sforza Cesarini)
Transcription f.178 Un quadro di quattro palmi, e tre in tavola rappresentante il Giudizio Universale opera di Michel’Angelo Bonarota con cornice tutta intagliata, e dorata stimato scudi cinquecento S.500
Artist MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (Italian)
Name(s) from inventory: Michel’Angelo Bonarota
Owner Sforza Cesarini, Sforza Giuseppe I, Duca di Marsi Name(s)
Beneficiaries Sforza Cesarini, Maria Francesca Giustiniani
Sforza Cesarini, Filippo I
Object Giudizio Universale
Subject Last Judgement [11U]
Object Type Pittura
Material/Dime tavola nsions
Date or 7 September 1744 Range
Document Rome, Italy
Residence Palazzo in Via dei Banchi Vecchi
Room Nella Prima Stanza Della Guardarobba
Document Sale Catalog B-641, Lot 0063
Artist Name(s) MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (Italian)
from catalog: Michel-Ange Buonarotti
Object Title/Description Le jugement dernier. Grande composition, exécution ingénieuse et savante, d’une expression
chalereuse, dessin correct, beau coloris.
Esquisse et première idée de ce grand maître
|Material/Dimensions||on canvas, H.24, L.19 1/2|
|Date or Range||16 September 1840|
|Sale Date||1840 Sep 16 and following days (This Lot: Sep 16)|
|Sale Location||Ghent, Belgium|
|Sale Price||24 francs|
from catalog: Nicaise
|Sale Catalog Br-3888, Lot 0106|
|Artist Name(s)||CLOVIO, GIORGIO GIULIO (JULIJE KLOVIC)
(Croatian or Italian), copy by
MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (Italian), copy after
from catalog: Giulio G. Clovio; Michael Angelo
|Object Title/Description||A copy in miniature, by this highly esteemed Artist, of the great picture in the Vatican of the Last Judgment, by Michael Angelo. — This beautiful gem was formerly in the collection of Pope Clement the Eleventh, and His Holiness presented it to Cardinal Janson, who attended his inauguration, as Charge des Affaires de France, in whose family it remained till after the French Revolution. The numerous figures it contains are a study of drawing and variety, such as is seldom met with|
|Date or Range||11 April 1832|
|Sale Date||1832 Apr 11, dates unknown (This Lot: Apr 11)|
|Auction House||Exeter Hall|
|Sale Location||London, England, UK|
|Seller(s)||Taylor, Josiah (Pall Mall)|
from catalog: [Taylor]
|Previous Owner(s)||Clement XI, Pope Janson, Cardinal|
|Previous Sales||1828/06/26 LOPH 0300 as Michelangelo TAYLOR
|Post Sales||1832/05/09 LOEXR 0083 TAYLOR Br-3905|
|Annotations||[sold] July 1835 [YCNH]|
Document Sale Catalog Br-5314, Lot 0040
Artist Name(s) MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (Italian)
from catalog: M. Angelo
Object Title/Description The last judgment. Original design for the great picture at the Vatican. It varies in some particulars from the engraving and from the finished painting.
|Material/Dimensions||2′ 5″, by 3′ 3″ [74 x 99 cm]|
|Date or Range||17 August 1841|
|Sale Date||1841 Aug 17 and following days (This Lot: Aug 17)|
|Auction House||Littledate (John)|
|Sale Location||Dublin, Ireland|
|Seller(s)||Sirr, Henry Charles, Major from catalog: Major Sirr|
|Document||Sale Catalog Br-577, Lot 0463|
|Artist Name(s)||MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (Italian) from catalog: Michael Angelo Buonaroti|
Object Title/Description “The last judgment,” Michael Angelo Buonaroti, esteemed the original sketch for that celebrated Picture in the Sistine Chapel at Rome, first presented to Pope Clement the VIIth, and afterwards patronised by Paul the IIId. who soon after his accession to the Papal chair, paid a visit to this unrivalled artist, in person, attended by ten cardinals, and prevailed upon him to undertake this stupendous work, to fill the enormous façade of the chapel, above the altar, with the immense composition of the last judgment, which Vasari says, he accomplished in less than seven years: a sublime performance, in which is portrayed every attitude that varies that human body, and every passion that sways the human heart
|Date or Range||3 May 1808|
|Sale Date||1808 May 03 and following days|
|Auction House||European Museum
[No.8] King St., St. James’s Square, London, England, UK
|Sale Location||London, England, UK|
- Michael Hirst, Michelangelo and his First Biographers, 1994 Proceedings of the British Academy
Michael Hirst, a well-known Michelangelo scholar also acknowledged that Vasari mentioned Pope Julius II ordering Michelangelo to paint the walls as well as the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel and quoted the following:
« Ma pure per commissione del Papa et ordine di Giulian de San Gallo fu mandato a Bologna per esso (Michelangelo); e venuto che e ‘fu, ordinò il Papa che tal cappella facesse, e tutte le facciate con la volta si rifacessero; e per prezzo d ‘ogni cosa vi misero il numero di Xv mila ducati. »
Translation. “(…) the Pope [Julius II] ordered that this chapel [Sistine Chapel] be redone, and all the walls with the vault should be remade”
ALBERTI 2015 – Alberti, Alessia, D’Après Michelangelo. II. La Fortuna di Michelangelo nelle Stampe del Cinquecento, Venezia, 2015.
BARNES 1988 – Barnes, Bernardine, ‘A Lost Modello for Michelangelo’s Last Judgment’, Master Drawings, vol. 26, no. 3, 1988, pp. 239-248.
BARNES 1998 – Barnes, Bernadine, Michelangelo’s Last Judgment: The Renaissance Response, Los Angeles; London, 1998.
CHROŚCICKI 2014 – Chrościcki, Juliusz A., ‘Michelangiolo twórca fresków w Kaplicy Sykstyńskiej – pierwszą ofiarą „Trzeciej Kongregacji” Soboru Trydenckiego?’, in: Sztuka po Trydencie, K. Kuczman (ed.), rev. A. Witko (ed.), Kraków, 2014, pp. 69 -100.
DE MAJO 1978 – De Majo, Romeo, Michelangelo e la Controriforma, Bari, 1978; Roma – Bari, 1981; Firenze, 1990.
DE TOLNAY 1943-1960 – De Tolnay, Charles, Michelangelo, vols. 1-4, Princeton, 1943-1960.
DE TOLNAY 1971-1980 – De Tolnay, Charles, Corpus dei disegni di Michelangelo, Novarra, 1971-1980.
EINEM, 1973 – Einem von, Herbert, Michelangelo, London, 1973.
GAYE 1839-40 – Gaye, Giovanni, Carteggio inedito d’artisti dei secoli XIV. XV. XVI. pubblicato ed illustrato con documenti pure inediti dal dott… Firenze, 1839-40.
HALL 2002 – Hall, Marcia, Michelangelo. The Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, New York, 2002.
HALL 2005 – Hall, Marcia B., Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, Cambridge, 2005.
HIRST 1988 – Hirst, Michael, Michelangelo and his Drawings, New Haven, 1988.
HIRST 1994 – Hirst, Michael, ‘Michelangelo and his First Biographers’, Italian Lecture, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Proceedings of the British Academy, 94, London, 1994, pp. 63-84.
HOCHMANN 2004 – Hochmann, Michel, Venise et Rome 1500-1600: deux écoles de peinture et leurs échanges, Paris, 2004.
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