The gloom and terror of The Last Judgment come as a tremendous shock after the beauty of the Sistine Ceiling. The change is symptomatic of the
transformation which had come over Rome itself after the dreadful events of the Sack of Rome in 1527 and its aftermath, from which the center of Christendom did not recover for many years.
The space directly above the altar is reserved for the mouth of Hell, into which the celebrant of the Mass frequently could look as he performed the sacred ritual. To the left of Hell Mouth extends what little of earth has not yet been dissolved, and from its barren ground, reminiscent of the earth on which Adam lies in the Creation of Adam, the dead crawl out of their graves. Some are well preserved, some skeletons, in conformity with a tradition appearing in monumental form in Signorelli's great Last Judgment series in the Cathedral at Orvieto, which Michelangelo must have studied with much interest.
Throughout the Last Judgment, the dominant color is that of human flesh against the slaty blue sky, with only a few touches of brilliant drapery to echo faintly the splendors of the Sistine Ceiling. The dead rising from their graves still preserve the colors of the earth - dun, ocher, drab. A few patches of red appear in the angels' cloaks. The whole section, moreover, has darkened considerably from the smoke of the candles at the altar.