Signorelli’s Damned Cast into Hell
At the end of the Italian Renaissance, Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican friar, corrupted Florence, denouncing the works of many humanist ideas he considered to be immoral. He was a great influence at the time, encouraging citizens to repent their sins while presenting passionate sermons that promoted a great fear of hell and the rebuke of sinners.
Luca Signorelli’s Damned Cast into Hell is a Fresco from the late 15th and early 16th century located in the San Brizio Chapel in Orvieto, Italy. Signorelli’s works are essentially Savonarola’s sermons through the artistic means of painting. Inside the Orvieto Cathedral, there are many renditions that illustrate themes akin to the one shown in the Damned Cast into Hell, where an agonizing mass of people are being terrorized and tortured by demons. In a time where there was an intense enthusiasm for the Catholic Church, and a fiery fear of persecution, Signorelli’s dense composition was effective with its impact on the viewer. The sinners suffer the consequences of an immoral life, writhing amongst the cluster of wretchedness. Signorelli’s signature style of his subject’s twisted bodies and lean muscles assume postures and positions of excruciating torment. The devils lunge at the humans, some biting their heads, others choking their victims; there is even a demon that stabs a man in the head. As Saint Michael and the hosts of Heaven hover above the mass of sinners, their facial expressions are impassive and unconcerned. The holy figures are telling of the finality that the damned face; since these people have had their opportunity to live a Holy life and have chosen otherwise, they must now endure the eternal penalties of their sins.
With these depictions of misery, churchgoers would easily be frightened when sitting in the middle of a sermon listening to Savonarola’s words, and looking upon Signorelli’s haunting portrayal of the Damned Cast into Hell.