Michelangelo - 1534 Sistine Chapel - 03 Last Judgement
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Christ as Apollo
There is another influence that one should not discount also in evidence in the ceiling as well as the Last Judgement. From 1490 to 1492, Michelangelo attended the Humanist academy that the Medici had founded along Neo-Platonic lines. At the academy, both Michelangelo's outlook and his art were subject to the influence of many of the most prominent philosophers and writers of the day, including Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and Poliziano. And these men were mystics not theologians.
It may account for the almost Apollo like splendour of Christ at the centre of the picture. Michelangelo ignored the usual artistic conventions in portraying Jesus, showing him as a massive, muscular figure, youthful, beardless and naked – and blonde! Apollo!
Apollo has been variously recognized as a god of music, truth and prophecy, healing, the sun and Light, myth and poetry. He was a patron of shepherds – thus a good shepherd. He also had the power to bring a plague upon the world. But the name with ἀπόλυσις (apolysis), shows he was connected with "redemption", the power to forgive. Apollo was associated with the bow and archery symbols of spiritual experiences based on ‘suppression’ and love. As Wikipedia says “The Greeks created the legalism, the supervision of the orders of the gods, and the demand for moderation and harmony. Apollo became the protector of music, spiritual-life, moderation and perceptible order”. His symbol was a lion.
Thus Michelangelo was painting Jesus as Apollo, the role he would fulfil in the final chapter of this aeon.
Mercury was the patron god of ‘financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages/communication (including divination), travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves’; he is also the guide of souls to the underworld – a psychopomp. Mercury was also considered a god of ‘abundance’ - conspicuous consumption, materialism and greed at its worst. His symbols include the cock, a ram or goat. He too was a promoter of spiritual experience but via ‘overload’ mechanisms – which would today include drugs and pharmaceuticals. Mercury had essentially the same aspects as Hermes, wearing winged shoes and a winged hat and carrying the caduceus – the symbol of the kundalini experience, but was much more of a Roman god than Hermes. Hermes was no trickster.