The Last Judgment

The Iconography
Medieval Last Judgment images are fairly easy to recognize. In the typical example shown above, Christ sits in Heaven, enthroned in a mandorla while below him the dead arise from their tombs and angels conduct the just on his right up to Heaven and the unjust on his left through a great maw into the fires of Hell. The judgment, the fire, and the division into right and left come from Matthew 25:31-46, the rising of the dead from I Corinthians 15:52.

Another traditional detail is the blowing of one or more trumpets, derived from I Thessalonians 4:16-17. Sometimes we also see St. Michael weighing the souls on a balance scale while a demon tries to cheat by pulling on one of the plates, as in the third picture at right.

In paleo-Christian art Christ simply sits or stands between a flock of sheep on his right and goats on his left, making a gesture to represent his judgment. (See the first picture at right.) The sheep and goats are from Matthew 25.

Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University



In the Last Judgment tympanum at Conques, France (12th century) Christ's hand gestures welcome the saved on one side and reject the damned on the other. For a detailed discussion of this work, follow this link.


In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus predicts a final judg­ment in which he will se­pa­rate the "sheep" from the "goats" (i.e., those who suc­cored his "least breth­ren" in their need from those who did not). Here we see only the right-hand ges­ture of wel­come, the left being con­cealed with­in his to­ga. See the de­scrip­tion page.

Manuscript illumination by Lorenzo Monaco, 15th century – See the description page.

A wall paint­ing in Bur­gos, Spain. St. Mi­chael weighs souls while a de­mon tries to cheat. See the de­scrip­tion page.