The Depiction of the Last Judgment Scene in the Arts

In Christian theology, the Last Judgment or the Final Judgment is the last and eternal judgment of every nation by God. The scene is found in all the gospels, and is supposed to take place after the resurrection of the dead and the Second Coming of Christ. This belief has inspired numerous artistic depictions of several genres, as is the case of the picture-within-the-picture which appears in the background of Vermeer’s work Woman Holding a Balance, as I mentioned in my first post.

"The Last Judgment", by Stefan Lochner

Roman Catholics believe that immediately after death, each soul undergoes a particular judgment, and depending on the actions and good or bad deeds that the person has carried out throughout his life, his soul will go to heaven, purgatory or hell. The Catholic Church teaches that at the time of the last judgment Christ will come in his glory, and all the angels with him, and in his presence the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare, and each person who has ever lived on earth will be judged with perfect justice.

"Day of Judgment", by Hans Memling, 15th century

As the Last Judgment is also called the Weighing of Souls, very often the scene is represented by showing a balance, as the painting below. This scene was often depicted in Romanesque sculpture as a decoration of church tympanums. Once we know this, the connection between the balance and the judgment in Vermeer’s work becomes evident. As Robert Huerta defends in his book Vermeer and Plato: Painting the Ideal, the image has been variously “interpreted as a vanitas painting, as a representation of divine truth or justice, as a religious meditative aid, and as an incitement to lead a balanced, thoughtful life.”

Detail of the tympanum at Autun cathedral, France

In brief, it is important that we take into account the symbolism that is obviously present in Vermeer’s work, and especially in his painting Woman Holding a Balance, where the scene of the Last Judgment seems to have a clear connotation and connection with the protagonist of the painting who is holding the balance.

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3 responses to “The Depiction of the Last Judgment Scene in the Arts

  1. interesting, the good part in these images is the artists creative mind very inventive but the worst part is making people believe your pictorial ideas to be the exact relation of what GOD has only said in words.

  2. I am interested in the roles of the Archangel Michael as depicted in works of art. He traditionally has several roles and in the Memling piece is seen weighing souls on the day of judgment..

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