Inside the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains) in Rome is Michelangelo’s sculpture The Moses. It was intended to be one of more than 40 over-sized figures for the tomb of Pope Julius II, but this was one of Michelangelo’s unfinished projects.
Michelangelo began his work on Pope Julius II’s tomb in 1505, but Pope Julius II had Michelangelo stop work on the tomb and paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Yes, Pope Julius II was still alive as it was common for the rich and powerful to plan their own tombs. He eventually resumed working on the tomb in 1513 when he completed the Moses.
The Moses is flanked by Rachel and Leah, two of the matriarchs of the Jewish people. Some of the other completed works, the Slaves, are in the Louvre in Paris and the incomplete Slaves are in the Accademia in Florence, along with the David.
My favorite of Moses’ many heroic actions in the Hebrew Bible is that he is the one who stands up to Pharaoh and demands freedom for the Israelites. He tells truth to power.Art Historians love the power that is portrayed in this work — that can be seen in Moses’ stare, his muscles, and the spiral action that his body is making. Moses is pushing his left foot back, as if he is about to stand up, and because his left foot is pushed back, his hips twist to the left, but his shoulders point to the right, his head to the left and then his beard back again to the right!
Why does he have horns? Well, that’s from a mistranslation from Hebrew to Latin. In the original Hebrew, it says that after seeing God, Moses’ head was “emitting rays”. The term for rays is similar to horns, thus the mistranslation and the stereotype that Jews have horns.
It was July — the busiest time of year in Rome, and look at all the people crowded around the Moses. Like a good swimming hole, let’s hope that no one finds out about this anytime soon.
There’s a masterpiece of Michelangelo’s in here, but the church is empty! More for us : ) You won’t find the crowds here like at the David or his Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica.