THE LAST JUDGEMENT

(MICHAEL ANGELO)

ALEXANDRE DUMAS

While Michael Angelo worked upon his Moses, Clement VII., following the example of Julius II., would not leave him alone for a moment. It was a trick of all these Popes to exact from the poor artist something different to what he was doing at the time. To obtain some respite, he was forced to promise the Pope that he would occupy himself at the same time with the cartoon of The Last Judgment. But Clement VII. was not a man to be put off with words; he supervised the work in person, and Buonarroti was obliged to pass continually from the chisel to the pencil and from the pen to the mallet. The Last Judgment! Moses! these are two works of little importance and easy to do off-hand! And yet he had to. His Holiness would not listen to reason.

One day it was announced to Michael Angelo that he would not receive his accustomed visit: Clement VII. was dead. The artist breathed freely just during the Conclave.

The new Pope, Paul III., had nothing more pressing to do than to present himself in Buonarroti's studio, followed pompously by ten cardinals. The newly-elected Pope was easily recognized there!

The Last Judgment. Michael Angelo.

The Last Judgment.
Michael Angelo.

"Ah!" said the Holy Father, in a tone of firm decision, "I hope that henceforth the whole of your time will belong to me, Maestro Buonarroti."

"May your Holiness deign to excuse me," replied Michael Angelo, "but I have just signed an engagement with the Duke of Urbino, which forces me to finish the tomb of Pope Julius."

"What!" exclaimed Paul III.: "for thirty years I have had a certain wish and now that I am Pope I cannot realize it!"

"But the contract, Holy Father, the contract!"

"Where is this contract? I will tear it up."

"Ah!" exclaimed in his turn the Cardinal of Mantua, who was one of the suite, "your Holiness should see the Moses which Maestro Michael Angelo has just finished: that statue alone would more than suffice to honour the memory of Julius."

"Cursed flatterer!" muttered Michael Angelo in a low voice.

"Come, come, I will take charge of this matter myself," said the Pope. "You shall only make three statues with your own hand: the rest shall be given to other sculptors, and I will answer for the Duke of Urbino's consent. And now, Maestro, to the Sistine Chapel. A great empty wall is waiting for you there."

What could Michael Angelo reply to such an emphatic wish expressed so distinctly? He finished in his best style his two statues of Active Life and Contemplative Life—Dante's symbolical Rachel and Leah—and not wishing to profit by this new arrangement to which he was forced to submit, he added fifteen hundred and twenty-four ducats to the four thousand he had received, to pay with his own gains for the works confided to the other artists.

Having thus terminated this unfortunate affair, which had caused him so much worry and fatigue, Michael Angelo was at last enabled to occupy himself exclusively with the execution of his Last Judgment, to which he devoted no less than eight to nine years.

This immense and unique picture, in which the human figure is represented in all possible attitudes, where every sentiment, every passion, every reflection of thought, and every aspiration of the soul are rendered with inimitable perfection, has never been equalled and never will be equalled in the domain of Art.

This time the genius of Michael Angelo simply attacked the infinite. The subject of this vast composition, the manner in which it is conceived and executed, the admirable variety and the learned disposition of the groups, the inconceivable boldness and firmness of the outlines, the contrast of light and shade, the difficulties, I might almost say the impossibilities vanquished, as if it were all mere play, and with a happiness that savours of prodigy, the unity of the whole and the perfection of the details, make The Last Judgment the most complete and the greatest picture in existence. It is broad and magnificent in effect, and yet each part of this prodigious painting gains infinitely when seen and studied quite near; and we do not know of any easel-picture worked upon with such patience and finished with such devotion.

The painter could only choose one scene, several isolated groups, in this appalling drama which will be enacted on the last day in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, where all the generations of man shall be gathered together. And yet, admire the omnipotence of genius! With nothing but a single episode in a restricted space, and solely by the expression of the human body, the artist has succeeded in striking you with astonishment and terror, and in making you really a spectator of the supreme catastrophe.