A Museum Man Minute #2: Luca Signorelli's Frescoes @ Orvieto Cathedral

Halfway between Florence and Rome in Italy lays the small town of Orvieto, and The Orvieto Cathedral; most famous today for it’s chapels housing fresco cycles representing – of all things… Judgement Day and the Apocalypse! This cathedral is decorated in demons, the risen dead, and visions of the anti-christ.

It’s mainly the work of Luca Signorelli, who began work in 1499 and finished in 1503. And interesting to note before taking a closer look: Signorelli’s Judgement Day precedes Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel by a good 35 years. So for those of you hip-enough to renaissance frescoes of the last judgement to think of “that other famous one” it’s important to note it’s Michelangelo who found inspiration in Luca Signorelli’s masterpiece and not the other way around!

There are 4 main frescoes and there’s lots to say about them so read my blog but here I’d just like to call attention to the colors. We’re struck in the modern day by their rainbow-bright vibrancy and tend to think of Signorelli’s color choices as a purely ‘emotional’ or ‘colorful’ addition to the subject. But viewers in his day – which was an era during which plague and disease made death a familiar sight – would have recognized in his color palette the putrefying and rotting corpse colors which were all too common. They’d see a darkness in his bright colors that we don’t inherently pick up.

I encourage you to learn more about these frescoes! I’ve seen them in person and they’re breathtaking.

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