Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment and the Celebration of Tenabrae in the Sistine Chapel

Project leader

Funding source

Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ)

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2008
End date: 31/12/2011
Funding: 2040000 SEK


This study will reinterpret Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment (1535–1541) in the Sistine Chapel. The painting has several unique features that have been the subject of different interpretations. Its size is colossal and, furthermore, in the lack of any framework or clear articulation of space, the many figures mostly appear as free floating, whirling against the dark blue background. Neither does the composition have the usual differentiation of the blessed on one side and the damned on the other. Instead it seems to be divided into horizontal zones, with symbols of the Passion above, the return of Christ in the middle and, at the bottom, the dead rising out of their graves and the trip across the river of Hades. An unusual detail in this context is the small cave right above the altar, which cannot be found in comparable representations of the motif. In this study these particular features are understood as a result of the liturgical context within which the painting belongs. Above all, it is understood in relation to the celebration of tenebrae during Easter in the Sistine chapel. Furthermore, the question of how the painting was used and rearranged during other parts of the liturgical year will be addressed, as well as the relation between The Last Judgment and other works of art in the chapel. Finally it is of interest to investigate the painting’s position within autonomous aesthetics.

Last updated on 2017-29-03 at 17:13