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10 Works of Art That Made People Really Mad

October 10, 2018 in History

By Heather Corcoran

These works made viewers unusually mad.

“The Last Judgement” by Michelangelo, 1536–1541

View the 10 images of this gallery on the original article

Artists throughout history have never shied away from controversy—in fact, many even try to court infamy. (Need proof? Just look at Banksy, the anonymous street artist who recently created a work that self-destructed the moment it was sold at auction—for a whopping $1.37 million.) While it’s up to critics and historians to debate technique and artistic merit, there are some works of art that shocked most people who saw them. From paintings deemed too lewd, too rude or too gory for their time to acts of so-called desecration and powerful political statements, these are some of the most controversial artworks ever created.

1. Michelangelo, “The Last Judgement,” 1536–1541

Some 25 years after completing the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Renaissance polymath Michelangelo returned to the Vatican to work on a fresco that would be debated for centuries. His depiction of the Second Coming of Christ in “The Last Judgement,” on which he worked from 1536 to 1541, was met with immediate controversy from the Counter-Reformation Catholic church. Religious officials spoke out against the fresco, for a number of reasons, including the style with which Michelangelo painted Jesus (beardless and in the Classic style of pagan mythology). But most shocking of all were the painting’s 300 figures, mostly male and mostly nude. In a move called a fig-leaf campaign, bits of fabric and flora were later painted over the offending anatomy, some of which were later removed as part of a 20th century restoration.

2. Caravaggio, “St. Matthew and the Angel,” 1602

Baroque painter Caravaggio’s life may be more controversial than any of his work, given the fact that he died in exile after being accused of murder. But his unconventionally humanistic approach to his religious commissions certainly raised eyebrows in his day. In the now-lost painting “St. Matthew and the Angel,” created for the Contarelli Chapel in Rome, Caravaggio flipped convention by using a poor peasant as a model for the saint. But what upset critics the most were St. Matthew’s dirty feet, which illusionistically seemed to jut from a canvas (a recurring visual trick for the artist), and the way the image implied him to be illiterate, as though being read to by an angel. The work was …read more


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