Some Macabre Details from Torcello's Last Judgement

The twelfth century mosaic of the Last Judgement found in the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello, is well enough known, but as with so many scenes of the Last Judgement, they are so filled with detail that it might be easy to miss some of them. Torcello's Last Judgement offers some particularly "colourful" (which is to say macabre) details, but before we look at those, let's first take a look at the mosaic in its entirety in order to set the broader context.

There is plenty here of note, but it is the lower right hand quadrant that I wished to focus in on specifically.  There we see a very interesting series of images which act as a kind of "memento mori" depicting the condemned in very colourful fashion.

This gives a good view of the whole quadrant in question, but let's take a closer look still.

One of those very most striking portions of this part of the mosaic are the skulls that are intended to depict the Envious. They have snakes and/or worms protruding from their envious eyes.

(Source: The New Criterion)
Here too are shown the Gluttonous and Avaricious, shown in part consumed by the fires of Hell:

 (Source: The New Criterion)

The lowest corner of the mosaic not only shows more in the way of skulls, it also depicts various severed limbs and what would seem to be ribs.

Perhaps one of the more unique depictions in this section of the mosaic is that showing Satan, seated upon his devilish throne:

If you are wondering why the Christ Child appears to be seated upon Satan's lap, then the intent of the unknown artist has been achieved as this is actually not Christ who is being depicted; it is rather intended to portray the anti-Christ.

We also see carried into Hell's dominion the souls of kings and queens, bishops and monks, Christians and non-Christians alike, reminding the viewer that neither wealth nor position ensured one's safety from divine judgement.

But to end on a more positive note, let us look back toward the east end of the basilica with its glorious apse and beautiful depiction of the Virgin and Child surrounded by the apostles.

(For those interested in the sanctuary arrangement, you can read about it more in our article, Early Christian Basilica Architecture: Santa Maria Assunta.) 

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