How Fra Angelico and Signorelli Saw the End of the World
By Creighton E. Gilbert
(Penn State University Press, Hardcover, 9780271021409, 200pp.)
Publication Date: November 2002
The frescoes of the Cappella Nuova in the Cathedral of Orvieto have fascinated visitors from Michelangelo to Freud and Czeław Miłosz because of their dramatic portrayal of the end of the world and the Last Judgment. Creighton Gilbert's study draws on previously overlooked documents to explain the commissioning of this extraordinary cycle of paintings, begun by Fra Angelico in the early 1400s and completed a half-century later by Luca Signorelli. In contrast to most other art historians, who ascribe the iconographic and formal structure of the paintings to Signorelli, Gilbert contends that his predecessor, Fra Angelico, devised the entire program of decoration. Gilbert also situates the cycle in the contexts of liturgical practice, humanistic studies, and the rich body of texts and images shaping the Renaissance conception of the coming of the Antichrist and the world's final moments.
How Fra Angelico and Signorelli Saw the End of the World examines every element in the Cappella Nuova's architecture and complex decoration, which not only represents the coming of the Antichrist, the end of the world, and the Last Judgment but also, on a high dado, features portraits of Dante and other poets, scenes from their texts, and sinuous grotesque ornament. Although Dante's likeness has long been recognized, Gilbert is the first scholar to establish that his great epic, The Divine Comedy, exerted a profound influence on the Chapel's iconographic program.