Thursday, August 12, 2010

Resurrection of the Flesh

Title: Resurrection of the Flesh

Artist: Luca Signorelli

Medium: Fresco

Size: tbd

Date: 1499-1502

Location: Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto.

John 5:25-29: “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”

Signorelli went to Orvieto, and on 5 April 1499 was awarded the contract for the decoration of the blank sections of vaulting over the altar in the Cappella Nuova. The Cappella Nuova contained a couple of frescos which had been begun by Fra Angelico, but the remainder had been left unfinished for about 50 years. The works of Signorelli in the vaults and on the upper walls represent the events surrounding the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment.

Two giant angels with long trumpets stand in the sky, blasting, banners unfurling. The banner, white with red cross, symbolizes the victory of the resurrected Christ over death. The symbol was derived from the 4th century vision of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, and follows his use of a cross on the Roman Standard. Below the angels the earth is an off-white, flat and featureless stage, stretching away and stopping at an abrupt horizon in the middle distance. Its plain whiteness sets off the bronzed flesh and the shadows of the risen and rising humans, both male and female. Viewed all together the huge frescoes give an impression of overcrowding and of confusion which at first is far from pleasing. But the individual details demonstrate the greatness of Signorelli as an illustrator: the macabre but hilarious idea of the nude with his back to the observer who is carrying on a conversation with the skeletons; or the skulls surfacing through the cracks in the ground, who put on their bodies as though they were a costume. They pull themselves up through the ground, and offer helping hands, and gather and embrace in a big reunion. In this section of the fresco cycle Signorelli has given free rein to his inventive genius which is still an extremely important part of our figurative heritage.

Luca Signorelli (ca. 1450, Cortona - 1523, Cortona) was an Italian Renaissance painter who was noted in particular for his ability as a draughtsman and his use of foreshortening. The massive frescoes of the Last Judgment in Orvieto Cathedral are considered his masterpiece. He displayed a mastery of the nude in a wide variety of poses surpassed at that time only by Michelangelo, and it was said that his works were highly praised by Michelangelo, and several instances of close similarity between the work of the two men can be cited. By the end of his career, however, Luca had become a conservative artist, working in provincial Cortona, where his large workshop produced numerous altarpieces.

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