Welcome to Hell, Biagio da Cesena: Michelangelo’s spiteful addition to ‘The Last Judgment’

As most are aware, Michelangelo’s famous renderings on the Sistine Chapel, “The Last Judgment,” were highly controversial among Italian clergy for their depiction of nudity. Few were more aghast at Michelangelo’s sacrilege than Biagio da Cesena. The conservative Papal Master of Ceremonies expressed his distaste for Michelangelo’s work by stating that, due to the fresco depicting “all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully,” it was better suited “for the public baths and taverns” than the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo was incensed, but channeled his anger to create one of the most famous passive aggressive trolls in history. Biagio da Cesena likely would have earned little notoriety in history books, but for his inclusion in the painting’s depiction of hell. “The Last Judgment” portrays Biagio da Cesena as Minos, judge of the underworld. He comes replete with donkey ears and a coiled snake obscuring his nudity. The twice-coiled snake represents lustfulness, a probable allusion to Biagio finding the painting’s depiction of nudity to be lustful.

Biagio da Cesena was understandably furious, but if he was looking for respite by bringing the matter to the Pope, he was sorely disappointed. Pope Paul III simply informed Biagio that his authority did not extend to hell and that the painting would not be altered.

To this day, visitors to the Vatican are told the tale of the irritating critic who got under Michelangelo’s skin, and that is likely to constitute Biagio da Cesena’s memory until, perhaps, the last judgment.