Anonymous: Last Judgment (12th/13th century); Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, founded in 639 on the island of Torcello near Venice, Italy, contains an exceptional Last Judgment mosaic. Torcello is situated in the lagoon, about an hour by boat. The mosaic shown here covers the Cathedral’s west wall. It was made in the twelfth and thirteenth century by Venetian Byzantine workmen. Why is this mosaic so special?
On the lower right side, we see Hell in its most disgusting appearance ever. Angels pierce their hayforks into human bodies, black devils are flying around. This Hell is a Paradise for Byzantine Art lovers. The atrocities depicted here are not seen anywhere else. At the bottom of the scene countless skulls are floating around. Jaws are smirking and squalid wormlike creatures are creeping out of eye sockets. Body parts circle around: hands, feet, skulls, bones. The intriguing question is how the artist could put such unusual pictures in these mosaics. Probably craftsmen from Constantinople were at work here. They were highly qualified specialists who brought a rich array of imaginative power. But what drove them to depict snakes, legs and bones all over the place?
The twelfth century was not a lucky period for the people living around the lagoon. For instance, we know that in this period the island of Torcello turned into a swamp. Many people died by diseases like malaria. These circumstances possibly play a part. Moreover, Sant’ Ariano, an island near Torcello, was an ossuary. For ages, bones dug up from the San Michele cemetery were brought to Sant’ Ariano. If Sant’ Ariano was already an ossuary in the twelfth century, then bones that were found there may have inspired the artists. The Last Judgment of Santa Maria Assunta may well have reflected the geographic location. 

(Text: Annet Withagen)


Anonymous said…
annet withagen said…
thank you!
it is great to go there and remind its history!
RMN said…
I daresay that the depiction can be interpreted as the deadly sins. The left top image of the three men surrounded by fire, for instance, stands for gluttony. As for the others, the picture is too small to see and I cannot recall it from my visit.