For a biography of Joos van Cleve, see the Catalogue Entry for The Holy Family
).The Subject of the Painting:
The Last Judgment, representing the reappearance of Christ at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, is foretold in such biblical texts as Matthew 7:21–23, and 25:31–36; Luke 13: 23–28, and Revelation 20:11–12. A conventional iconography for Last Judgment images in the Low Countries was developed in the late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-centuries. It included Christ in the heavenly sphere on a rainbow with the globe of the world at his feet, raising his right hand, palm up, blessing the saved, while lowering his left hand, palm down, toward the damned below him. The lily, symbolizing Christ’s mercy, and the sword, representing justice, appear to the left and right of Christ’s head. The Virgin Mary and John the Baptist flank Christ, while the apostles are assembled behind them. Angels blow their trumpets to signal the Day of Judgment as souls emerge from their graves to be judged, and the Archangel Michael assists in separating the saved from the damned.
What is immediately apparent in this Last Judgment is that several of the accustomed details are missing here. The composition is at once familiar, presenting a clear division of Christ in heaven surrounded by angels, from the judged below in the earthly realm, with the Archangel Michael separating the damned at the right from the saved at the left. But there is no lily and sword, no world globe at Christ’s feet, and the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist are absent. In addition, Christ directly addresses the viewer and signals his blessing with his right hand, as if intended not just for the saved souls below but also for the viewer. These differences from the standard approach to early sixteenth-century Last Judgment scenes is very clear from a comparison with a Last Judgment
attributed to Pieter Coecke van Aelst of around 1532 (Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid; see fig. 1 above). Despite a similarity in size and, generally, in composition, the varied details indicate two quite different approaches to the theme of the Last Judgment.
The departure of The Met’s painting from the standard approach raises the question of its meaning and function. In the absence of any helpful clues concerning the commission of the painting or its intended location, one must turn to the religious context of Antwerp at the time, which, as will be discussed below, was the likely origin of the painting. Early in the sixteenth century, Antwerp was the economic hub of western Europe and center of cultural exchange. It was also a focus of existing tensions within the Catholic Church and burgeoning hotbed of heterodox publications. It thus was ripe to become the spawning ground for Reformist religious teachings, specifically those of Martin Luther, whose treatises and sermons were disseminated quickly and widely, thanks to Antwerp’s highly developed printing industry. Already in 1520 Hillen van Hoochstraten had published the Reformer’s works, and by 1522 twelve other editions of Luther’s writings appeared in Latin and an additional ten in Dutch. Antwerp also became the main international center for printing vernacular translations of the Bible. The 1526 Dutch translation of a German Lutheran edition of the New Testament (Septembertestament
) was highly popular and soon became an alternative to the Catholic versions of the Bible.
It is instructive to look at what Martin Luther had to say in his treatises and sermons about the Last Judgment, in particular about the Deësis, that is, the representation of Jesus, Mary, and John together in Last Judgment scenes. As Franz Posset points out, Luther specifically mentioned the matter in his 1533 sermon on Luke 21 for the second Sunday in Advent, where he spoke about the priority of Christ and his critique on Bernard of Clairvaux and Medieval spirituality. He lamented that Christ the Redeemer was not discussed, but instead painted like an angry judge with rod and sword, intending to punish the world. Furthermore, Luther rejected the idea of Christ as a merciless judge, and found no basis in the Bible for the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist as intercessors on Judgment day. Later in 1538, Luther spoke again explicitly: “They make out of Christ nothing but a strict, angry judge of whom one has to be afraid, as he wants to throw us into hell; in this way one has painted him as sitting in judgment, on the rainbow, with his mother Mary and John the Baptist on each side as intercessors against this terrible anger.” Luther objected not only to the image of an angry judge, but also to the intercession and advocacy by Mary and John. Instead, he insisted on a reformed notion of salvation by faith and grace, not by law and intercessions.
This new theology perhaps provides the explanation for The Met painting in which Christ appears not as the angry Judge, but as the beneficent Redeemer, signaling his blessing of the viewer. Further in consideration of the Lutheran Reformist viewpoint, the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist are absent as intercessors. To the left and right of Christ in heaven, the apostles, rather than standing calmly in observation of Christ’s actions, appear to be deep in discussion. Are they debating Luther’s theology and Reformist point of view?The Attribution and Date:
When this painting was acquired by Graham Farber Blandy in 1909, Max Rooses, the well-known Rubens scholar and Director of the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, wrote him that the painting was most likely by Bernard van Orley, dating to around 1520 (see Ref.). He called attention to similarities with Van Orley’s monumental Last Judgment Triptych
, commissioned by the Almoner’s Guild for the cathedral of Antwerp in 1517–18 and completed around 1524–25 (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; fig. 2). Rooses astutely noted that the Christ figure reminded him of Raphael and the foreground figures of academic studies, as is typical of Van Orley’s style. By the time the painting was donated to The Met from the Blandy estate, Margaretta Salinger (1941) had correctly reattributed the painting to Joos van Cleve. This attribution, however, has not been unanimously accepted (see Hand 2004), due to the compromising factor of the problematic condition of the painting that was significantly damaged and restored in the past (see Technical Notes). Furthermore, a Last Judgment requiring an abundance of nude figures is not characteristic of Joos’s production, and this painting is his singular example of the theme (Hand 2004, p. 189). In addition, Joos more routinely looked to Leonardo da Vinci for inspiration rather than to examples by Raphael.
These anomalies concerning the attribution of The Met’s Last Judgment
can be explained through close technical examination of the painting and through the likely circumstances of Joos’s artistic connections and religious circumstances in Antwerp at the time. As Sophie Scully has noted (see Technical Notes), much of the underdrawing is damaged along with the paint layers, and the underdrawing that remains is difficult to see due to the strong craquelure, which appears very dark in the infrared reflectogram. But where it is clearly visible, the preliminary sketch is characteristic of the style and expressive spontaneity of Joos van Cleve’s underdrawings as compared, for example, to that found in The Met’s Crucifixion with Saints and a Donor
). There is extensive paint loss in various areas down to the wood support, as one can readily see in the x-radiograph and the infrared reflectogram assembly (figs. 3 and 4). These losses must be carefully identified in order to ascertain the parts that are in good condition and represent Joos’s handling, such as the woman front and center who rests on her left knee, some of the apostles at upper right and left, and the trumpet-playing angel at the left. The male figure at the lower left, although damaged, shows a head type that we readily recognize in other Joos van Cleve works, such as in the figure of Saint John in the Crucifixion
(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) or Saint John in Saint John on Patmos
(University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor). Unfortunately, key areas where one would normally look to identify the hand of the artist are damaged and overpainted, such as Christ’s head and the head of Saint Michael.
The commission for a Last Judgment must have been a challenge for Joos, whose mastery of the nude was limited to figures of the infant and adult Christ. It is not a surprise, then, that Joos turned for inspiration to one of the most important and visually powerful images in Antwerp in the 1520s, namely Bernard van Orley’s Last Judgment Triptych and Acts of Mercy
(fig. 2). It is a testament to Van Orley’s reputation outside of Brussels that he was chosen for this important commission. Although on a far grander scale, the centerpiece of Van Orley’s Last Judgment
must have provided a source for Joos van Cleve as he designed his composition. The two share a number of features in common: a similar pose of the Christ figure with outstretched arms and swirling red draperies emerging from the rainbow light behind him; the surrounding angels, two of which are trumpeting the signal for the dead to be raised; Saint Michael brandishing his sword and driving the sinners toward hell at the right; the clear separation of the saved from the damned; and the varied animated poses of the figures as they emerge from their graves. Van Orley assimilated his Christ and the classical-style figures emerging from their graves from Raphaelesque designs for tapestries that had been sent north to be woven in Brussels. Joos van Cleve, in turn, was influenced by Van Orley’s reception of Italian style, specifically Raphaelesque examples, for his Last Judgment
. Unusual as it was for Joos’s oeuvre, it was likely the theme of the Last Judgment that prompted his embrace of Romanism as seen through Van Orley’s example.
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2020
 For numerous examples, see Harbison 1976.
 See Victoria Christman, Pragmatic Toleration, The Politics of Religious Heterodoxy in Early Reformation Antwerp, 1515–1555
, Rochester, 2015, especially chapter four: “People of the Book, Heterodox Printers and Publishers in Antwerp.” See also Joos van Cleve's Annunciation
) for mention of Antwerp’s religious strife in the early sixteenth century.
 Christman 2015, p. 70.
 Angelo Serrentino, “The Reformation in Antwerp: Its Rise and Impact,” in Saeculum Undergraduate Academic Journal
13, no. 1 (2018), pp. 10–11.
 Franz Posset, “Martin Luther on ‘Deësis.’ His Rejection of the Artistic Representation of ‘Jesus, John, and Mary,” in Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme
20 (Summer 1996), p. 66.
 Posset 1996, p. 67.
 See Dan Ewing, “Joos van Cleve und Leonardo, Italienische Kunst in niederländischer Übersetzung,” in Peter van den Brink, ed., Leonardo des Nordens
, exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen, 2011, pp. 113–31.
 See Hand 2004, pp. 84–85, figs. 82, 83.
 See Maryan W. Ainsworth, “Romanism as a Cataylist for Change in Bernard van Orley’s Workshop Practices,” in Molly Faries, ed., Making and Marketing, Studies of the Painting Process in Fifteenth-Century Netherlandish Workshops
, Turnhout, 2006, pp. 99–118.