Who’s Who in the Last Judgment?

It is the end of the world.  Christ has come to judge the living and the dead. He is the figure in the top center and beside Him is His mother, the Virgin Mary.
On His right are the Patriarchs, the Hebrew women, Holy Virgins, and Sibyls.
On His left, the Apostles, the Prophets, Confessors, and Martyrs.

In the two arches above Him hosts of angels (without wings) bring the instruments of His Passion—the cross, the pillar at which He was scourged.

Just beneath Him are two martyrs; and, below them, angels with trumpets, announcing His Coming.

At the bottom of the wall on the left men and women are rising from the dead.
Angels take them up to Heaven.
On the right side, angels are throwing the wicked men down to Hell, where a big Devil with eyes like burning coals drives them off a boat and other devils pull them down into that terrible place.

There are almost four hundred figures, many of them life-size and larger.
Some were meant by Michelangelo to be identified. For example, the big figure on Christ’s left who holds the Keys to Heaven can be none other than St. Peter; and the woman with the fragment of a wheel must be St. Catherine of Alexandría and the instrument of her martyrdom.

But whether Michelangelo intended to portray other specific personages from the Bible or history and even living men, no one can say for sure.  Here is an outline of the main figures of the painting and their possible identification. It is taken from La obra pictórica completa de Miguel Ángel in the Clásicos del arte series published by Noguer-Rizzoli Editores, Barcelona, 1968

1    The Archangel Gabriel
2    Pharoah’s daughter who found Moses; or Eve; or Sarah
3 and 4   Niobe and a daughter [Niobe is a queen from mythology whose many children were killed by Apollo and Artemis; see this ancient statue]; or Eve and a daughter (the personification of maternity); or the merciful Church and a believer
5    Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain; or Eve
6    Abraham; or St. Bernard; or Pope Julius II
7    St. John the Baptist; or Adam
8    Rachel; or Dante’s Beatrice
9    Noah; or Enoch; or Pope Paul III
10  St. Andrew; or John the Baptist; or Dimas [St. Dimas was the Good Thief who was crucified with Jesus]
11  St. Martha; or St. Anne; or Vittoria Colonna, Michelangelo’s great friend
12  St. Lawrence
13  *The Virgin Mary
14  *Christ the Judge
15  Solomon’s wife; or Dante
16  Francesco Amadori (the Urbino); or Tommaso de Cavalieri, Michelangelo’s friend
17  St. Bartholomew with the face of Pietro Aretino, the poet who criticized the painting as indecent
17a  The skin of St. Bartholomew with the face of Michelangelo
18  St. Paul
19  St. Peter
20  St. Mark; or Pope Clement VII
21  St. Longinus, the soldier who lanced Christ on the Cross
22  Simon Zelote
23  St. Philip; or Dimas
24  Job; or Adam;  or Abraham
25  Job’s wife; or Eve; or Pope Hadrian VI
26  St. Blaise
27  St. Catherine of Alexandria
28  St. Sebastian with the arrows of his martrydom
29  Dimas; or St. Francis of Assisi;  St. Andrew;  Simon the Cyrenian; the encarnation of Justice; the symbol of Man with his trials and tribulations
30  Moses; or Adam
31, 32, 33  One of the blessed; or an angel raising two black men
34  The Archangel Michael with the Book of the Chosen Ones
35  A proud man; or a swindler
36  A proud man; or one condemned for Despair (as opposed to theological Hope)
37  A devil
38  A proud man or a lazy (slothful) man
39 and 40  Pablo and Francesca
41  A miser; or the simoniac Pope Nicholas III
42  An  irate or a proud man
43  A  lustful man caught and thrown down to hell by his genitals
44  Michelangelo
45  Michelangelo; or Pope Julius II; or Virgil; or St. Stephen; or Plato (or wisdom); or a charitable monk; or an angel; or Martin Luther
46  Dante
47  Savonarola
48  Charon [the boatman of mythology who ferries souls to the Underworld]; or Satan with the features of the Condestable of Bourbon
49  Cesar Borgia
50  Minos [the Judge at the gates to the Underworld] with the face of Biagio da Cesena
51 and 52  Count Ugolino and Archbishop Ruggeri

*Some say the Virgin has the face of Michelangelo’s great friend Vittoria Colonna or is a synthesis of the traditional depiction of the Virgin and the Greek statue of Aphrodite. It was the figure that took Michelangelo longest to paint (10 fresco days) and shows signs of several corrections.

*The figure is reminiscent of the Greek Jupiter the Archer

Read how Michelangelo painted the great mural and what some critics thought of it: The Last Judgment by Michelangelo


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10 Responses to Who’s Who in the Last Judgment?

  1. Rich says:

    Lots to learn here, Swallows.
    That will take some time for me to identify, discern, learn.

    I had the pleasure last summer to have a holiday at a resort at the Baltic Sea. On one of the bicycle tracks slightly off the beach I noticed sign posts pointing to the sea shore. They were alternating between “textile” and “non-textile”.
    Well, those alternating posts were meant for the tourists – the nudists and the non-nudists. The sea shore was precisely cut into sections dubbed textile and non-textile.

    That’s the Germans, probably, and I’m just asking myself the question into which section Michelangelo might belong.
    Naked truth?

    • 100swallows says:

      Rich: In spite of all his nudes on the wall, I see Michelangelo as Textile. He dressed everyone in muscles and pretty shapes and so hid their nudity. Non-textile are those poor fools in the Giotto Last Judgment.

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  3. Ken Januski says:

    Well I’ve been waiting for days to have a witty reply featuring “textiles” spring forth. But in vain. So I’ll forget about that.

    But I was struck by your comment about Michelangelo dressing everyone “in muscles” Swallows. Do you think he always did this, or got worse as he got older?

    • 100swallows says:

      Ken. Sorry there was no witty reply. That one about Michelangelo dressing his figures in muscles was probably silly but it slid right out. I meant his figures don’t seem naked. They aren’t sexy and they aren’t plain exposed flesh. Plus they aren’t smooth but have relief and decoration like clothing.
      I called the Last Judgment his best painting but there is much less invention in it than in the ceiling. Are all those burly figures manneristic (in our sense)? Probably. The Judgment is maybe like one of Henry James’ late novels (Golden Bowl) where many of the sentences are almost opaque. Or like a late Hemingway (Islands in the Stream) where even you and I could finish his sentences in that style for him. Michelangelo did one hero nude after another from different angles until he was tired. Vasari says he taught us all to draw and the wall does look in places like a drawing exercise. Look how different his Pauline Chapel frescoes are just a few years later.

  4. Sean says:

    This is very informative — I love the Sistine Chapel although I must admit I was much more drawn to some of the ceiling works than The Last Judgment. Anyway, for number 5, you have written that it was Abel, who killed his brother Cain. Just thought I’d point that out.

    Thanks again for compiling all these!

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  6. Lelle says:

    I feel grateful to find this thorough article on Lust Judgement. However, it would be great if I could have access to the book references of this research, since I’m working on a university project. Thanks in advance.

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