Sun Symbolism and Cosmology in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment”

Valerie Shrimplin

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Here, against the background of the Renaissance, the author uses art historical methods with an interdisciplinary approach to resolve the meaning of the fresco’s iconography and circular composition.  (SCE&S 46)

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Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies, Vol. 46

This volume sheds new light on the celebrated Italian artist and fresco. Art historians long have noted the circular composition around the figure of Christ, yet no satisfactory explanation has ever been offered. Here, against the background of the Renaissance, the author uses art historical methods with an interdisciplinary approach to resolve the meaning of the fresco’s iconography and circular composition.
Written in a clear, effective style, Sun Symbolism and Cosmology in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” contains some strikingly acute observations, careful examination of a wide range of both primary and secondary sources, an ambitious methodology, significant new research, and interesting conclusions.

I consider the book as a “must” not only for Michelangelo aficionados but also for anyone interested in the links between astronomy and art, as well as by the influences of cosmological perceptions on historical masterpieces.

—A. Heck, The Observatory

Contents

Illustrations

Preface

Introduction

Theology, Cosmology, and Christian Iconography

Cosmology and Religion
Cosmology and Christian Iconography
Cosmology and the
Last Judgment
     The Meaning of the Last Judgment

Iconography of the Last Judgment
Origins and Early Examples
The Last Judgment in Northern Europe
The Last Judgment in the Italian Renaissance
Influence of Changes in Cosmology

Michelangelo’s Last Judgment
The Commission of the Last Judgment
Formal Analysis
Previous Interpretations
Twentieth-Century Criticism
Current State of Research

Religious Sources
Christian Light Symbolism
Michelangelo and Catholic Revival of Early Christian Ideas
Michelangelo and Early Christian Iconography
Continuation of the Sun-Christ Tradition

Literary Sources
Italian Renaissance Literature
The
Divina Commedia of Dante Alighieri
Visual Images
Dante’s Cosmology
Sun-Symbolism and Cosmology in Dante
Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna

Philosophical Sources
Florentine Neoplatonism
Michelangelo and Neoplatonism
Neoplatonic Themes
Ficino’s Cosmology
Michelangelo’s Hell and Plato’s Cave
Other Philosophical Sources; the Hermetic Writings.
Christian Neoplatonism

Scientific Sources
The Importance of Copernicus
Tolnay, Copernicus, and Michelangelo
The Waning of Medieval Cosmology
Renaissance Predecessor of Copernicus
Neoplatonic Influences on Copernicus
Copernicus and His Writings
Copernicus in Art
Reaction of the Church
Clement VII and the Vatican Lecture
Paul III and the Heresy Question

The Central Point
Art Historical Method
The Centralized Format Around Christ
Fresco Construction—Formal and Iconological
The Symbolism of Revelation 19:16

New Hypotheses
Art Historical Interpretation
Hypothesis or Truth?
A Valid Framework

Appendix 1 Selected Versions of the Last Judgment

Appendix 2 Important Dates

Appendix 3 Letter of Nicholas Schönberg

Appendix 4 Copernicus’ Preface to De Revolutionibus

Authors

Valerie Shrimplin received er Ph.D in art history from the University of the Witwatersand in Johannesberg, South Africa. She has published extensively in art history journals about Michelangelo's Last Judgment.

Reviews

It is surprising to see how the author moves with ease in so many different fields, trying to find the central theme that inspired Michelangelo in organizing the composition of his large fresco.

Astronomy & Geophysics

Successfully illustrates the history and general importance of solar symbolism in the Italian Renaissance—it is the first general study of this important topic—while suggesting the influence such symbolic genres might have had on Michelangelo.

CAA Reviews