Giorgio Vasari snd Federico Zuccari, Last Judgment
- Giorgio Vasari - Federico Zuccari
- Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
- Specific location
- Interior, dome
- Fresco painting, dry painting
- Pigments, plaster
Grand Duke Cosimo I originally commissioned the mural painting of the dome, presenting the Last Judgment among allegories, from Giorgio Vasari. The master prepared the cartoons and painted the topmost registers in fresco. Then, when he (1572) and Cosimo died (1574), the successor Francesco I brought in Federico Zuccari, who worked in secco (painting on ‘dry’ rather than wet fresco plaster) for the completion of the decoration, finally achieved in 1579.
The completed work represents one of the largest paintings in the history of art, at over 3,600 square metres, with 700 figures: 248 angels, 235 souls, 21 personifications, 102 religious figures, 35 damned souls, 13 portraits, 14 monsters, 23 putti and 12 animals.
This teeming composition is in fact organised according to a precise iconographic program, formulated by the Vallombrosian monk and court intellectual, Vincenzo Borghini, who deduced and summed the plans from the theological and moral systems of Catholicism. The theme of the Last Judgment was originally managed in synchrony with sculptures of Adam and Eve, God the Father and the Deposed Christ: these had been installed in the underlying presbytery almost simultaneously with the painting of the dome, but in the 19th century they were dismantled. The cycle of the dome and presbytery told the entire Story of Humanity: from the Original Sin, to the Sacrifice of Christ, up to the End of the World.
The paintings are organised in eight sectors, and continue the themes seen on the vaulted ceilings of the Baptistery. The “eighth” sector, at front, is filled entirely by the treatment of Christ Judge, however the others are divided in horizontal bands, or steps. The frescoes can therefore be read both horizontally, in the series of bands, and vertically, in steps or rings, where each ring deals with a different iconographic aspect. From top to bottom you can see: in the summit ring, painted in fresco by Vasari, the 24 elders described in the Apocalypse, looking out from a temple-like architecture and standing near the throne of God (suggested by the light shining from the oculus) in eternal praise.
In the step below, the angelic hierarchies stand out, each bearing one of the instruments of the Passion. (It was in this ring that Vasari stopped his work, making way for Zuccari.) Below this there are several families of Saints and the Elect (martyrs, apostles, virgins, others); proceeding downward, these stand above triads of personifications, each presenting a Christian Virtue flanked on one side by a Gift of the Holy Spirit and the other by a Beatitude - meaning one of the rewards of Heaven, promised to the just. Finally, in the register just above the cupola drum, we arrive at the seven regions of Hell, each punishing one of the seven deadly sins. The eastern segment, vertically aligned with the altar, lacks the register of Hell, enabling the introduction of Christ the Judge in exceptional scale, filling the entire sector.
This portion is central to the entire work, both for the iconographic conception and because the placement renders it the most visible to all faithful, gathered in the nave. This is also the "eighth" segment, symbol of the Eighth Day, the time of eternity promised to all, waiting at world’s end, meaning with Christ returned – the very Christ depicted within this segment.
At the very top of this portion, an angel holds aloft a scroll reading ECCE HOMO, ‘This is the man’, the words of Pilate as he condemned Christ before the gathered crowd. Another angel shows the inscription INRI, the letters posted on the Cross for the words, in Latin: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’. Below these angels we see Christ, enthroned, in white robes with arms outstretched, welcoming the blessed on the right, and on the left turning away the damned. Behind him on this east-facing sector is a luminous orb, representing both the New Sun, awaiting arrival in this World, and the eucharistic host. Around him are Seraphim and Cherubim angels; nearby are the Holy Mother, in prayer, and John the Baptist, protector of Florence, interceding for all Florentines. Below and to the right are Adam and Eve. Seen asking forgiveness for themselves and their descendants, the Humanity of sinners. Below Christ, an angel drives a nail into a celestial globe: the world that crucified him is now won. Further below are the personifications of the three theological virtues: Charity at centre, in red clothing, holding her own heart in her left hand and surrounded by children; at her left hand is Faith, in white clothing and with the cross; opposite is Hope, dressed in green and gold, gazing heavenward with joined hands. At either side of the Virtues are the saints of the triumphant Florentine church. In the lower part there is a feminine allegory of the “militant” Florentine Church, standing near the coat of arms of the people of Florence: two angels join in removing her armour and dressing her anew in the golden cloak of triumph. Finally, on the impost of the drum, we see the allegory of the End of Natural Time (an old women with nine breasts), with the Personifications of the Four Seasons sleeping: at their left and right are Time, as an old winged man, with his hourglass empty and broken, and death, breaking his scythe.