Friday, July 10, 2009

The Last Judgment

Title: The Last Judgment
Artist: Joos van Cleve
Medium: Oil on wood
Size: 123.8 x 86.4 cm
Date: 1520–25
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The theology of the Last Judgment is found throughout many books of the bible. One notable passage is found starting in Matthew 25:31: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” To his right are the faithful, promised eternal life, but to those on his left he commands: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

In this ambitious depiction of the Last Judgment, the upper and lower zones of the composition are linked by two angels with fantastic multicolored wings who blow lily-shaped trumpets. Christ appears at the moment of judgment in a burst of light and color, surrounded by the apostles, a host of cherubim, and voluminous clouds. This brilliance stands in contrast to the subdued tones reserved for the mass of humanity awaiting judgment below. That the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist—traditional intercessors between the heaven and earth—do not appear indicates that Christ judges alone. This change in hierarchical arrangement may signify that the panel was made for a Protestant-leaning patron.

Joos van Cleve, a Netherlandish painter, was active in Antwerp from 1511 to 1540. He died between November 1540 and April 1541. He was one of twenty van Cleefs who painted in Antwerp, but whether the well-known Henry, Martin, and William (the younger) were kin of his cannot be determined.

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