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Michelangelo, Moses, marble, ca. 1513-15 (San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris, Dr. Steven Zucker.  

Usually considered unfinished, these sculptures were originally intended for 

the tomb of Pope Julius II. According to the Louvre, the artist gave the marbles 

to Roberto Strozzi who presented them to the King of France.

.
Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
Video transcript
BETH HARRIS: And we've entered the church. And in the back corner, to the right of the altar, is the version that ended up as the tomb of Pope Julius II with the figure by Michelangelo of Moses. STEVEN ZUCKER: And that accounts for the real popularity of this church now. There's a lot of people here. And they're all-- or virtually all-- here, to see the Michelangelo. BETH HARRIS: And not the relics of Saint Peter's chains, which probably would have drawn much more interest just a few hundred years ago. STEVEN ZUCKER: And is the namesake of the church. That's right. But I'm not sure Michelangelo would've been entirely satisfied with what he made here. Because this is actually really a fraction of what he had originally expected this tomb to be. BETH HARRIS: He made very grandiose designs for the tomb of Pope Julius II. So Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to design and sculpt figures for the tomb. It might seem kind of weird for us today to have someone plan their own tomb as elaborately. STEVEN ZUCKER: It seems rather Egyptian, doesn't it? BETH HARRIS: It does. But rulers did that. They commissioned their tomb all the better to ensure that their memory and their achievements lived on in posterity. STEVEN ZUCKER: Let's take a look at this sculpture. He's towering. BETH HARRIS: He is towering. I think he's eight feet sitting down. So one could only imagine how tall he would be standing up. STEVEN ZUCKER: He's wearing classical garb. He's got a massive head. You just can't overstate the muscularity and the sense of power of this figure. BETH HARRIS: He's frighteningly powerful. You can see these bulging muscles in his arms. He's a seated figure, and yet there's nothing relaxed about him. He's filled with power and energy. STEVEN ZUCKER: And in fact, as I look at it, I really see this as a figure in transition as so many of Michelangelo's figures are. And he is seated. But he's, in my mind at least, about to stand. BETH HARRIS: Yeah. He does look like he's pushed his left leg back in order to prepare to rise. STEVEN ZUCKER: And it seems to me he's rising in anger. Under his right arm, you can see the two tablets of the law. BETH HARRIS: The Ten Commandments. STEVEN ZUCKER: I've always imagined that he's about to rise and throw them down onto the ground to shatter them in his anger. He's come back down from the mountain from his audience with God. And he's received the laws. And he sees the Israelites, who he's left behind, have reverted from the monotheism that he is preaching to a polytheism worshipping the golden calf. And it's his anger and his fury that I think Michelangelo is capturing so beautifully. BETH HARRIS:He does appear to be staring at something with a lot of-- STEVEN ZUCKER: Intensity. BETH HARRIS: Intensity. The figure seems almost alive-- the way he pulls his leg back. His left arm comes in front of his body. His right hand pulls his beard. His head turns to the left. Not a part of his body that's not-- STEVEN ZUCKER: Animated. BETH HARRIS: --in motion. STEVEN ZUCKER: Engaged. That's right. And actually really supporting the complexity of the composition of the sculpture as a whole. BETH HARRIS: Right. And that's something that I think about as just typical of the High Renaissance is that kind of new complexity of the human body. And you can think about in the early Renaissance, artists just sort of figuring out contrapposto for the first time since the ancient Greeks and Romans. And here we have something so much more complicated. STEVEN ZUCKER: It's almost a seated contrapposto. But even in the beard, even in the expression, which give energy and velocity and just a kind of extraordinary movement [? throughout ?] the figure and contrast areas of really deep carving creating very rich shadows. This very dramatic of alternation between dark and light, between textures, all of which, I think, in a sense energizes this figure. BETH HARRIS: It's too bad that Michelangelo had many other responsibilities and was unable to complete all of the figures that he intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II. But the ones that he started-- and the one that he finished, Moses-- and others that he started, like the slaves for the tomb, are just among his masterpieces. STEVEN ZUCKER: It is breathtaking.