The Christian Church of the Middle Ages was the most important institution of the time, holding an unyielding power over what the general population thought and believed. More often than not, art of the period venerates Jesus in all of His glory, placing him at the centre on a throne, judging who shall pass through the gates of Heaven and who will be banished to eternal damnation. These images gave strength to the many believers while terrifying some skeptics towards belief.
Take Fra Angelico’s The Last Judgement (1425-1430) for example (above). Christ sits in judgement on a white throne surrounded by John, Mary, the saints, and angels, his right hand pointing towards Heaven, while his left indicates Hell. On his right is paradise, a beautiful garden leading to a city on a hill; angels lead the saved to meet their loved ones. To Christ’s left, we see demons forcing the damned back into Hell to take their place for eternal torment. At the very bottom, Satan gets his fill of three sinners while two others wait in his grips.
Once considered terrifying, today these images are subjects of ridicule and disbelief. The length to which believers went to assure their salvation in a place that will more likely than not turn out to be imaginary and intended to ease the fear of death, is simply laughable. Do you believe in God the Almighty and His Son that died for your sins? Should we, in fact, sin more in order to be sure that He died for the right reasons?
See more religiously charged images in Heaven, Hell, and Dying Well: Images of Death in the Middle Ages at The J. Paul Getty Museum, exhibiting until the 12th August 2012. Furthermore, bring these images home with Art of the Devil, a high-quality art ebook full of detailed images of life after death, stemming from the artists’ deepest fears.