The section on The Last Judgment in Howard Hibbard’s justly admired Michelangelo (1974) ends with the assertion that the work is the artist’s “most awesome creation.” The words are not Hibbard’s own, but his quotation and endorsement of Sydney Freedberg’s view taken from Freedberg’s likewise justly admired history of Italian painting in the sixteenth century. Since Michelangelo is generally felt to be the most awesome of artists altogether, such praise for the Judgment seems unmatchable. This status for his famous fresco has a very long history. Produced by an elderly artist who was already the most famous one living, it belongs to the small category of works treated as masterpieces in advance. The work’s reputation has also benefited from its theme and its unusual relation to its presumed audience. The Last Judgment (called not “Last” but “Universal”...


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