Saturday, May 24, 2008

Big is not always Best

Peter von Cornelius, (b. 1783, Düsseldorf, d. 1867, Berlin)
The Last Judgment (1836-39)
Fresco 60' 5" high and 37' 3" wide
Ludwigskirche Munich

The largest fresco in the world was commissioned by King Ludwig I of Bavaria. It stands in the church also commissioned by the King: the Ludwigskirche in Munich

The fresco decorations were for the most part designed and executed by von Cornelius

The king had championed Cornelius, whom he had first met in Rome in 1818. Cornelius was a leading member of the Lukasbund (Brotherhood of St. Luke), a fraternity of young German artists who were to be the founders of the Nazarene Movement.

Cornelius courageously based his painting on the Last Judgment by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Twenty years after his first sight of the Michelangelo masterpiece, von Cornelius was given an opportunity to execute his long held ambition: to paint a Last Judgment.

However the differences with the Michelangelo work are apparent: static and abstract rather than dynamic and dramatic; rather than the figures being material and natural, they appear idealistic and symbolic, abstract figures closely resembling medieval Christian prototypes. The individual elements simply would not resolve into a unified composition.

The work displeased Ludwig I. He thought it archaic and austere. It met a chorus of criticism directed at the Romantic conception underlying the painting.

Ludwig broke with Cornelius and Cornelius left to work for the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV in Berlin