|The Last Judgment, 1445-50, Rogier van der Weyden|
|Ghent Altarpiece, 1432, Jan van Eyck|
|Isenheim Altarpiece, 1512-15|
In terms of art, when we think of "last judgments," only one image presents itself--Michelangelo's magnificent Sistine Chapel wall behind the altar (though not technically an altarpiece but a fresco mural). Michelangelo's vision was horrific. Van der Weyden's is elegant. A hundred years older than Michelangelo's, it appears to have had no influence, and very likely, Michelangelo was unaware of it. But in many ways, it is superior to Michelangelo's. The central panel is unique because it has two centers of interest, Christ, above, balances precariously on what appears for all the world to be a rainbow, while below his spherical footstool, the archangel, Gabriel finesses a scales, weighing in the balance, the souls of the nude, mortal figures populating the lower, earthly realms, with the damned shrinking away to hell in the far left (Christ's left) panel while an angel leads the saved into heavenly ecstasy in the far right (Christ's right) panel. A mid-level golden cloud supports a host of full-length portraits of sundry saints and seraphim observing the spectacle. Though truly an altarpiece, the painting does not reside in a church, but in a hospital which, in deference to the sick and dying who might pray before it, would explain it's somewhat less than horrendous depiction of this ultimate trial.