Jan 8, 2019 in Comparative Essays

One of the most famous art periods is the Renaissance era, which is divided into the Early Renaissance marked between 1400 AD and 1475 AD, and the Late Renaissance, which thrived between 1525 AD and 1600 AD. Artworks created over this period are known for their revolutionary ideas as enlightened artists supported each other, and many talented personalities with diverse skills were revealed. Probably, generous financial support of painters at that time stipulated a drastic change of behavior among different artists seeking to provide unique artworks. Particularly, the period is known for the artists’ rejection of the medieval art to include personal fiction as a way of individualism. In order to understand a quiddity of Renaissance, this paper will compare The Last Judgment created by Michelangelo and The Battle of Alexander at Issus painted by Altdorfer.

“The Last Judgment” by Michelangelo

The Last Judgment is a fresco painting by Michelangelo, which was executed on the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel. The painting shows the last judgment or the condemnation of man after the second coming of Christ.

The painting was created between 1512 and 1536 after being commissioned by one of the catholic popes. A study of the period within which the painting was created reveals that it was made during the Late Renaissance. At a glance, the fresco is satiated with many nude figures that look brutal to the viewer. However, a closer contemplation unravels that all the people are focused on the central figures, which are Jesus Christ and his mother Virgin Mary. Mary was painted as if she looks away from Christ since she seems impressed with the happenings of the last judgment. Christ, on the other hand, looks in the opposite direction, and another peculiarity is that he is not entirely nude as the people that surround him (Alte).

There is a deep symbolism in a portrayal of Christ and Mary surrounded by people doomed for different destinations. The people on the left seem destined for the blissful eternity while the people on the right seem destined for condemnation in purgatory. At the top left, there are those who look like angels, carrying the crown of thorn and the cross. However, angels situated at the top right corner are struggling with some enormous pillar.

The artist used the Bible as his main source of inspiration. However, the artwork goes beyond the Bible since Michelangelo included his own imaginations of the last judgment. For example, the nudity shows the equalization of all figures unlike Christ and his mother who have some coverings to hide their nakedness.

Dominant elements of the fresco are the sky, which formed the main background, and the tones of flesh of the saints and the non-saints. This means that the painting is more monochromatic as opposed to being chromatic.

Later, the fresco was restored, which helped in bringing out the chromatic part of the painting since colors such as green, yellow and orange can be seen amidst the unification and animation of the complex scene (Zawie).

“The Battle of Alexander at Issus” by Altdorfer

The Battle of Alexander at Issus is a painting by Albrecht Altdorfer that was created between 1480 and 1538. The oil painting, measured between 158 and 160 cm, was made on panel. This unique piece of art is preserved at The Alte Pinakothek Museum in Germany.

The painting of Altdorfer as well as the one of Michelangelo belongs to the Late Renaissance, but it reflects the battle of Issus that took place in 333BC. In this battle, the Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander the Great. The artwork was commissioned by one of the Dukes who wanted to make it another wall hanging in his residence. The artwork represents Alexander’s history with one of the contemporary wars during the Renaissance period, which is thought to have inspired the artist.

The artist is also thought to have been inspired by the Alps due to his travel through the mountains in Southern Germany. Apart from this, the painting is believed to have some religious influences as the artist was one of the Danube School’s painters who drawn their inspirations upon historical and biblical motifs.

The main aim of Altdorfer was to show his viewers the achievements of the winning troops against the foreign barbarians. Because of this, the artist did not portray the exact event since it was meant to be an allegory. The painting features anachronism style combined with symbols instead of using images that would show the exact happenings.

A simple view of the painting shows a broad sky and combatant people at the front. However, a closer look reveals that there are some people at the forefront. The troops supposed to represent Alexander the Great are wearing steel amours while the enemy’s troops can be differentiated with the red turbans on their heads. Darius, the leader of the enemy, is shown being chased by Alexander the Great who is riding a horse with a spear directed towards him (Alte Pinakothek).

In the background is a dreamlike sky with the moon and the sun situated on different sides. The sun is situated behind the mountains while the moon is situated in the upper corner of this artwork. The sun is thought to represent the West while the moon is thought to represent the Muslims. Everything in this painting is fictional including the battle land, the mountain and the town that is situated behind the battlefield. The river Nile and the Island of Cyprus are also seen in the background is. All these elements are hard to find in one area, which shows fictional part of the painter. The artwork has a sign at the top, which explains the historical events represented by the author.

Similarities between the Two Artworks

One distinct similarity between the two artworks is that they were created during the Renaissance art period. As it was previously mentioned, The Last Judgment was painted between 1512 and 1536 while The Battle of Alexander at Issus was created between 1480 and 1538. Both artists were encouraged to paint the two artworks through commissioning. Michelangelo was commissioned by the pope while Altdorfer was commissioned by the Duke.

Analyzing the aspects of the paintings, the two artworks have the sky as the background, which is painted in blue in both cases. Moreover, there are some similarities in the color use of the two paintings. After The Last Judgment was renovated, some colors such as orange, green and yellow were added. The same colors are present at Altdorfer’s painting, Battle of Alexander at Issus. The turbans worn by Darius’s troops were painted in orange. Darius’s troops also have orange banners to differentiate them from Alexander the Great’s troops. The frame that describes the painting also has some orange color; similar shades are evident in some parts of the sun. Despite the fact that paintings show manifold events, such as the last judgment and the war, the main aspect that unites them is the presence of many people with different destinies.

The two artworks do not show a real representation of the whole event. The reason is that the authors used their imaginations to explain the proceedings of some crucial episode. Michelangelo was inspired by the Bible, but his painting does not represent the event as explained in the Bible. As for me, a redundant nudity shows the last judgment is fictional. On the contrary, Altdorfer was inspired by the Battle of Issus. He did not represent the battle as it was in reality, but used some other elements to highlight his imagination. For example, the River Nile, the city and the Alps appear at the same background, which seem fantastic in the real world. Such an insight can be explained by Altdorfer’s fascination with the Alps. His incomparable imagination led to the creation of the background’s objects, which include the city, the moon, the sun, the mountains, and the river.

Differences between the Two Artworks

One of the major differences between the two pieces of art is that The Last Judgment is a fresco painting while the Battle of Alexander at Issus is an oil painting on panel. In addition, The Last Judgment shows the events during the great account while the events of the Battle of Alexander at Issus represent a raging historical encounter.

The Battle of Alexander at Issus is chromatic while a scale of colors used in The Last Judgment is monochromatic compared to other frescos, which can be seen in temples all over the world. The Last Judgment focuses on the Christ and the Mother while the Battle of Alexander the Great is torn between the battle and the background, which attracts attention to the city, the skies, and other features. There are many nude people in Michelangelo’s work, which makes the painting a controversial one. This is quite different from Altdorfer’s painting, which concentrates on the battle and the spectacular background.

In conclusion, The Last Judgment by Michelangelo and The Battle of Alexander at Issus by Altdorfer have similarities as well as differences. On the one hand, the colors, the background and the themes are somehow similar. On the other hand, the paintings differ in the materials and the purpose of their creation.

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