How Signorelli inspired Michelangelo

An analysis of Signorelli's Punishment of the Damned

Past writers on Signorelli’s frescoes in Orvieto, unaware of how great masters paint an easily-perceived subject over a far more difficult esoteric one underneath, have generally assumed that the meaning of Signorelli’s scenes are “self-evident.” They read them like a book, following Bernard Berenson’s description of Signorelli as a great modern illustrator. The theatricality of the scenes, supposedly foreseeing the end of the world, are said to be based on an apocalyptic faith. Given a general tendency in art scholarship to equate the meaning of a picture with the stated beliefs of the patron, the murals are thought to extol ecclesiastical authority, visually proclaiming that there “is no salvation outside the Church.” This approach makes no distinction between the clergy who believed in the literal truth of the Bible, like fundamentalists today, and artists and other intellectuals who had a more spiritual understanding of the texts. Michelangelo for one, as I hope to demonstrate, would have seen far more in Signorelli's frescoes than illustration.

How Signorelli inspired Michelangelo

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