13. Reformations

Political, Religious, and Artistic Upheaval, 1530-1563

After the Sack of Rome in 1527 there were many changes or “reformations” in Italy.


Florentines took advantage of Pope Clement VII’s imprisonment to overthrow Medici rule and establish the last Florentine Republic between 1527-1530.

The Republic, in turn was overturned by Imperial troops after a bitter 10-month siege of the city.

Giorgio Vasari The Siege of Florence

In 1531 Alessandro de’ Medici was made ruler of Florence.

Pontormo, Alessandro de’ Medici

Between 1534-37 a fortress was built in Florence to garrison Spanish troops, ensuring Medici rule.

Fortezza da Basso, Florence

Nevertheless, in  1537 Duke Alessandro was murdered by his cousin Lorenzino and another young Medici descendant was selected to succeed him as duke.

Pontormo Cosimo I de’ Medici, 1537

The seventeen-year-old Cosimo, with help from his mother Maria Salviati, ruled Florence with an iron fist.

Pontormo, Maria Salviati

In the summer of 1537 Cosimo’s troops, with support from Emperor Charles V, crushed Florentine rebels at the Battle of Montemurlo.



In 1539 Charles V arranged the marriage of Cosimo to Eleonora di Toledo, daughter of the Spanish viceroy of Naples.


Agnolo Bronzino, Eleonora di Toledo


With Spain’s military strength and his wife’s riches, Cosimo’s domination of Florence was assured.



Agnolo Bronzino, Cosimo I de’ Medici


Michelangelo had been present in Florence during the siege, assisting in the city’s defense by building fortifications and he was forced to go into hiding when the Republic fell.

He returned to Florence in 1531 to continue work on the Medici Chapel at San Lorenzo. He sculpted tombs for two Medici dukes with four allegorical figures that are masterpieces of grace and elegance.



Michelangelo, Allegory of  Night, Medici Chapel, San Lorenzo, Florence


A generation of young Florentine artists, inspired by Michelangelo’s daring innovations challenged themselves to experiment in new artistic styles. This group of artists came to be known as mannerists, from the word maniera or “style.”

They played with ideas of perspective…



Jacopo Pontormo, Entombment


…exaggerated proportions of  the human body…




Parmigianino, Madonna of the Long Neck



…and experimented with color.




Rosso Fiorentino, Deposition




In 1534 Michelangelo left for Rome, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Jacopino del Conte, Michelangelo


Already recognized as the greatest living artist of his time, after painting the Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel in 1541, Michelangelo found himself at the center of a controversy caused by the daring images he had painted there.




Michelangelo, Last Judgment

Painted on the wall of the chapel where the Pope said Mass before the most influential representatives of the Catholic church, these images drew enormous attention.



Here is interactive site with a 360° zoomable view of the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s Last Judgment as it looks today:



It is at once an intensely personal vision of the final day when humanity is to be judged…


Michelangelo Bartholomew

Michelangelo’s self portrait on the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew



…and an affirmation of the power of the Renaissance papacy represented by the vigorous, muscular body of Christ at the center.




Michelangelo lastjud christ and mary

Detail of Christ and the Virgin Mary



Times had changed since Michelangelo had begun the work and the Catholic Church was now deeply involved in the reforms of the Council of Trent.


Council Trent

Many church officials felt that Michelangelo’s nude figures in the Last Judgment were obscene and decided they should be censored. The painter Daniele da Volterra has been immortalized with his nickname “Il Braghettone” (the big underpants painter).


Below is a detail of the figures of St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Blaise and St. Sebastian showing one of the most violent interventions:

Venusti and Volterra last judgcompared

On the left is a copy made in 1549 before alterations, on the right Daniele da Volterra’s changes


Below is a diagram of all the loincloths that were painted over Michelangelo’s original fresco. The ones in red were painted in a secco (dry) over the old plaster, while the portion in blue (St. Catherine’s dress and St. Blaise) was created by gouging out the original plaster and painting a new fresco there.


sistine underwear

Not all of these were painted by Daniele da Volterra. Most were painted later. When the restoration was done in 1993 about half of the loinclths were removed, including the one on the opening figure of this chapter.


Now many more of the figures appear as Michelangelo intended them.


michelangel last judgment


Michelangelo’s last years were dedicated above all to  architectural works.



Michelangelo campidoglio

Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome





michelangelo model st peters

Model for Dome of St. Peter’s, 1560


Michelangelo’s earlier architectural work in Florence also influenced young architects there…

mich laur bibliot


Michelangelo, Vestibule, Laurentian Library, Florence



…such as Giorgio Vasari, who designed the Uffizi  for Cosimo I de’ Medici.


The Uffizi, which meant “offices,” was originally the site of the grand ducal bureaucracy and state archives.


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