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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
(music) And we’ve entered the church and in the back corner to the right of the altar is the version ended up as the tomb of Pope Julius the Second with the figure by Michelangelo of Moses And that accounts for the real popularity of this church now, there is a lot of people here and they are all here or virtually all here to see the Michelangelo And not the relics of Saint Peter’s chains which probably would of drawn much more interest just a few hundred years ago And for the main sake of the church that’s right but I’m not sure that Michelangelo would have been entirely satisfied with what he made here because this is actually really a fraction of what he originally expected this tomb to be He made very grandiose designs for the tomb of Pope Julius the Second, so Pope Julius the second commissioned Michelangelo to design and sculpt figures for the tomb; this might seem kind of weird for us Today we have someone plan their own tomb and as elaborately it seems kind of Egyptian does it? It does but you know that rulers did that they commissioned their tomb all the better to ensure that their memories and their achievements lived on in prosperity Let’s take a look at this sculpture, he’s towering He is towering, I think he is 8 feet sitting down so one can only imagine how tall he would be standing up He is wearing classical garb, he has a massive head and you just can’t overstate the muscularity and the sense of power of this figure 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 And in fact as I look at it I really see this figure in transition so many of Michelangelo’s figures are and he is seated but he is in my mind at least about to stand Yeah he does look like he’s pushed his left leg back in order to prepare to rise And it seems to me that he is rising in anger, under his right arm you can see the two tablets of the law The Ten Commandments One can imagine that he is about to rise and throw them down on the ground to shatter them, in his anger He’s come from back down the mountain from his audience with god and he’s received the laws and he sees the Israelites who’s left behind have had 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 that Michelangelo is capturing so beautifully It does appear to be staring at something with a lot of (intensity) 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 in motion (not engaged) And that’s right and actually really supporting the complexity of composition of the sculpture as a whole Right and that’s something that I think about that is just something typical of the high renaissance is that kind of new, complexity of the human body You can think about it in the early renaissance artists just sort of figuring out contrapposto (Yeah and) For the first time since the ancient Greeks and Romans and here we have something so much so much more complicated It’s almost a seated contrapposto, but even in the beard even in the expression which gives energy and velocity and and just the kind of extraordinary movement through the figure and contrast areas of really deep carving, creating very rich shadows this very dramatic of alternations between the dark and the light, between textures, all of which I think energizes this figure 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 the Second but the ones that he started and the one that he finished Moses and the other ones that he started like the slaves for the tomb are just amongst his masterpieces It is breath taking (music)