A Vision of Judgment

After a four-year cleaning, Michelangelo's epic fresco at the Sistine Chapel reasserts its power

So overpowering was its impact that Pope Paul III, upon first seeing it, sank to his knees and murmured, "Lord, charge me not with my sins when thou shalt come on the Day of Judgment." Since being unveiled in 1541, Michelangelo's Last Judgment has been revered for its towering spiritual strength and enduring symbolism. The 40-by-45-ft. fresco on the west altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, on which Michelangelo labored for five years, is also a searing, unsparing personal document -- both of the unsettled world in which Michelangelo lived and of the artist's inner torment and fear of approaching death.

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