|Jean Cousin the Younger, Last Judgment|
Paris, Musee du Louvre
"Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'" (Mark 13:33-37)
Welcome to the season of Advent, that annually repeating time of preparation for each Christmas that also reminds us of our position in time. We look backward to the long wait of Israel for the Messiah at the same time as we look forward to the day on which He will come again.
|Gislebertus, Last Judgment|
Romanesque (French), 1130-1135
Autun, Cathedral of St. Lazare
He pulls down on the balance, even as the claws on his feet horrifically grab a frightened soul in the lintel below by the head and begin to drag it toward hell.
Some of these same details appear three hundred years later in the great Last Judgment polyptych (multi-paneled painting) painted by Rogier van der Weyden for the Hotel-Dieu at Baune in Burgundy.
|Rogier van der Weyden, Last Judgment Polyptych|
Beaune, Hotel Dieu
Here Michael’s weighing of souls takes center stage, directly beneath Christ. As the heavenly court hover above them, the souls of the dead emerge from their graves to face either an angelic welcome into heaven (at the left) or a horrifying descent into hell (at the right).
Interesting as these images are, however, they can be said to represent the Judgment already in progress. For an image that can illustrate this Sunday’s warning to ‘Watch!” is the great image of the Last Judgment that Michelangelo produced for the end wall of the Sistine Chapel (1536 - 1541), thirty years after his work on the Sistine ceiling.
|Michelangelo Buonarotti, Last Judgment|
Vatican City, Sistine Chapel
In its dynamic image we see, as it were, the Last Judgment at the moment “when the lord of the house is coming” (Mark 13:35). There is an immediacy and an urgency as Christ breaks once more into the terrestrial world, the dead rise from their graves and the judgment takes place. Those who are to be saved are assisted by angels and the blessed to reach heaven, while angels and the blessed resist those who are damned but are trying to escape their punishment.
|Michelangelo, Last Judgment|
Images of the Last Judgment seem to have tapered off after about 1600, perhaps replaced by a greater emphasis on the particular judgment that follows each individual death than with the general judgment of the final days. But, at Advent each year, the Church reminds us of that still-to-come last act in salvation history and of its byword “Watch!”
© M. Duffy, 2011