Friday, January 19, 2007


In 1595, Pope Julius II gave to Michelangelo the commission to design and sculpt his tomb.

The tomb was to be in the family church of the Pope`s famly: San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains) in Rome.The original dimensions of the tomb were 36 × 34.5 × 23 ft (11 × 10.5 × 7 m); it was to include almost 47 oversized figures.

However, events conspired to delay the completion of the project: Michelangelo fell out heavily with Pope Julius; Michelangelo was commissioned to carry out the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and other projects;Julius changed his mind and decided that he wished a major tomb in St Peters Basilica; Pope Julius died and his heirs decided to scale back the project considerably.

Michelangelo made only one figure for the tomb, Moses.He made the statue from a block of marble deemed unmalleable by earlier sculptors.

One well known legend is that when finishing the Moses, Michelangelo violently hit the knee of the statue with a hammer, shouting, "Why don't you speak to me?"

The sculpture shows Moses holding the Tables of the Ten Commandments. He is represented as seated. His body faces forward. His head with its mighty beard looks to the left. His right foot rests on the ground and his left leg is raised so that only the toes touch the ground.

The thumb of the right hand is concealed and the index finger alone is in effective contact with the beard. It is pressed so deeply against the soft masses of hair that they bulge out beyond it both above and below.

The Tables are stood on their heads and practically balanced on one corner. The upper edge is straight, the lower one has a protuberance like a horn on the part nearest the viewer. The Tables touch the stone seat precisely with this protuberance. It is to prevent the Tables from hitting the ground that the right hand retreated, let go the beard, a part of which was drawn back with it unintentionally, came against the upper edge of the Tables in time and held them near the hind corner, which had now come uppermost.

The facial expression of Moses is characterised as showing a mixture of wrath, pain, and contempt.

Moses has descended from Mount Sinai, where Moses has received the Tables from God. It is the moment when he perceives that the people are rejoicing around the Golden Calf. The figure expresses the potential energy to spring up and shatter the tablets as related in Exodus 32.

Moses is depicted with satyr's horns, as opposed to "the radiance of the Lord", due to the similarity in the Latin between the word for "beams of light" and "horns". This kind of iconographoic symbolism was common in early sacred art. In this case it gives ease to the sculptor (as sculpting concrete horns is easier than sculpting abstract light) and would have been understood by all who saw it as referring to the radience of Moses' face. They would not have actually thought that he had horns.

Pope Julius died at Rome, on the night of 20-21 February, 1513. He was buried in St Peters Basilica in the Vatican. The tomb in San Pietro in Vincoli was not finished until 1545.

The Pope`s remains, along with those of his uncle Pope Sixtus IV, were desecrated during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Today, the remains of both lie in St. Peter's in the floor in front of the monument to Pope Clement X, having been moved from the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. A simple marble tombstone marks the site.

As regards the composition of the sculpture, some have seen the influence of Donatello`s statue of St John the Baptist for the Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice (1438).

The Moses had long been seen as a thinly disguised portrait of Pope Julius II , whose terribilita as a father figure was notorious.

While working on the Pope's most important commissions, his tomb and the Sistine Ceiling, Michelangelo characterised himself and was long described by historians as a prodigal son who repeatedly rebelled, fled, and was reconciled.

Besides being Michelangelo's most important patron-father, Julius II was also the Holy Father, a man of enormous power in worldly as well as spiritual terms.

Later, the statue was frequently identified with the sculptor himself, possessed of the raging energy of a divinely inspired artist who persevered against the odds of political events and the sabotage of inferior competitors.

Early in the twentieth century, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud became fascinated with the statue.His essay Der Moses des Michelangelo (1914) was published anonymously. He did not confess to authorship until ten years later.

In September 1912, when the essay was germinating in Freud's mind, he visited the Moses on a daily basis.

In his essay, Freud wrote:

"No piece of statuary has ever made a stronger impression on me than this...some turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me."

Because of this essay, and what it reveals about Sigmund Freud, the statue seems to have acquired a significance in psychoanalysis, all of which was undreamed of by both Julius II and Michelangelo.