If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:6:53

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Church of San Pietro in vinkle a st. Peter in Chains in Rome looking at the tomb of the pope julius ii one of my glen giles biographers referred to this project as the tragedy of the tomb and that's because it just went on and on and on julius ii commissioned Michelangelo to produce a tomb of an unprecedented scale he wanted as many as forty seven over life-size figures and a multi-storied freestanding structure it was very common for rulers to plan their tombs before their death and so julius ii wasn't doing anything unusual but julius was a very ambitious pope he was known as the warrior pope and actually led military campaigns to reclaim lands that had once been controlled by the church he also was responsible for the building of the new st. peter's basilica and that was the destination for this tomb originally it wasn't supposed to be here a church that was actually associated with Julius's family so michelangelo impresses everyone with his sculpture of David and he gets called to Rome by pope julius ii and this is the first project the pope gives him this is a wall tomb and it's much smaller than what was originally envisioned in addition there's only one large scale figure by michelangelo and that is the central figure the figure of moses two other figures were completed for the tomb but those are in the louvre the dying slave in the rebellious slave and those were to be two of many figures of the male nude known as the slaves or the bound figures and in the academy in florence they're actually a number of unfinished sculptures that michelangelo hood originally intended for this tomb there's some confusion about exactly what michelangelo meant by these slaves or captives one of his biographers offered the interpretation that these represent the arts there's for example painting sculpture and architecture that julius ii was such a great patron of that would be captive because of julius ii yes a kind of morning a kind of agony that they had lost their greatest benefactor there were herm figures there were figures of victory that were meant for the tomb there were also supposed to be seated figures in addition to Moses of Paul and of the active and contemplative life so this was an incredibly ambitious tomb but most importantly Michelangelo was to produce a portrait of julius ii and effigy and it's interesting that michelangelo actually avoided sculpting that particular figure and instead focused on the Old Testament prophet Moses when you sculpt someone's tomb the most important figure would be a portrait of that person whose tomb it is but typical for Michelangelo he's much more interested in the human body than he is in capturing the likeness of an individual person and here in the representation of Moses we see Michelangelo's interest in power of the human body but also his interest in the interior self power is a really good word here this is a seated figure sitting is not a very active pose but Michelangelo has filled this figure with energy and drama and tension look at the way his left foot pushes back as if he's going to propel himself up look at the latent power in those arms and those legs I don't think I've ever seen a figure that has more potential energy as he pulls his left leg back his hips shift naturally in that direction but his shoulders turned slightly in the opposite direction activating the figure giving it a spiral tension and then his head shifts in the opposite direction but the beard pulls again opposite to the direction of the head and so each part of the body moves in opposition to the part next to it that opposition is wonderfully clear in that his focus is to the left he's looking into the distance and remember this would have been some 15 feet off the ground and we would have been looking up at him very different than the way we're looking at him today but it's that gaze just like with his figure of the David we have sense of the presence of something that Moses is looking out to so what is that one interpretation is that Moses is looking at the Israelites worshiping the golden calf he's come down from receiving the Ten Commandments from God Moses is the great symbol of monotheism but the Israelites have reverted to the polytheism of ancient Egypt so perhaps that is the focus of that very angry gaze although there is also a sense that the tablet seemed to be slipping from between his torso and his arm and so there is a question of what moment this is been the narrative this problem pinning down what moment this is or what the captives or slaves represent this is not unusual for Michelangelo he may not be representing a specific moment he may be creating a distillation a figure that in represent the continuity of that story over time one art historian has talked about the ways that perhaps Michelangelo in Moses and in the slaves and in other work is interested in this idea of binding of releasing the figure from within the stone this is a theme in Michelangelo's work and even that drapery that goes over the knee gives us a sense of uncovering of removing something to find something underneath which is the process of carving stone it's important to remember also that the horns at the top of Moses head would only just be visible if we were looking up at the figure as opposed to a cross at the figure we recognize figures by their attributes and lock horns were an attribute of Moses and this comes from a mistranslation from the Hebrew word for rays of light and traditionally Moses just became represented with these horns Michelangelo is very excited to work on the tomb it's an enormous Commission for the Pope with close to fifty figures Michelangelo spends much of 1505 actually quarrying the marble so he's really invested in this project but pope julius ii takes him off the project for the tomb and asks him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which Michelangelo does reluctantly at first but Michelangelo through paint explores the male nude which will become so important when he returns to the subject of the tomb of Pope Julius a second in the end Moses became the central figure in the tomb for Julius but it's important to remember the tomb that we see now is just a shadow of Julius the seconds initial ambitions [Music]