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Soaked Bathsheba, Benjamin Mathew The veiled Christ, by Giuseppe Sammartino
Moses, by Michaelangelo - Scintillating Sculptures
547    Dibyendu Banerjee    27/05/2023

It may seem strange today, but famous or infamous, the great rulers throughout history planned to create magnificent mausoleums for their own while alive, with the strong expectation that the magnificent monument would ensure their immortality. Pope Julius II of Rome was not an exception to it. Known as the warrior Pope due to his active military policy, who even led troops into battle, the fearsome Pope also appreciated fine arts.

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When Michelangelo completed his magnificent sculpture named David, which was believed to be the most beautiful male figure ever created in the history of art and even exceeded the beauty of the Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, Pope Julius II immediately sent his message to the artist, requesting him to visit Rome, without any delay, to work for him. He commissioned Michelangelo for the first time in 1505, to create an elaborate tomb for him, depicting the biblical Moses, with horns on his head, based on a description in chapter 34 of Exodus in the Vulgate, the late 4th century Latin translation of the Bible.

moses by michaelangelo

The Papal tomb marked an important creative moment in the career of Michelangelo, which gave him an opportunity to create a monumental artwork, combining artistic sculpture with architecture. His initial design for the tomb was massive, an enormous three-level art group of more than 40 statues, along with an imposing figure of Moses, around eight feet in his sitting position, to be placed on a tier around 12 feet (3 m) high, opposite a figure of St Paul.

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However, although Michelangelo had already spent months in Carrara selecting the marble for the tomb, the project took the back seat, as in the same year, he was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which gave rise to the legendary arguments and rows of disagreement between Pope and the artist. Unfortunately, Pope Julius II did not live long enough to see his mausoleums and the original monument, designed by Michelangelo never took shape .After his death in 1513, Michelangelo had to face problems with the heirs of Pope Julius II, who curtailed and re-dimensioned the original project several times. Ultimately, the final version, commissioned as late as 1532, featuring a drastic size reduction and fewer statues around the central figure of Moses, was completed in 1545 and was installed in San Pietro in Vincoli, instead of in St. Peter’s Basilica as planned originally.

moses by michaelangelo

According to the story of Exodus in the Old Testament, after leading the enslaved Jewish people from Egypt, Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai to take delivery of the commandments. But his momentary joy was transformed into wrathful anger, when after descending from the mountain, he found the Israelites were engaged in worshipping a golden calf, a pagan idol, like the Egyptians. In his creation of Moses, Michelangelo captured the reflection of his terrible anger in marble.

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Moses represents an intense, energetic figure in the sculpture, which seems to be around eight feet in his sitting position, with enormous muscular arms and an intense, angry look in his eyes. His body faces forward and his head with its abundant flowing beard looks to the left, his right foot rests on the ground, while his left leg is raised, so that only the toes touch the ground. Under his arms, he carries the tablets of the law, inscribed with the Ten Commandments that he has just received from God on Mount Sinai. Following the iconographic convention common in Latin Christianity, the statue has two horns on its head, which is sometimes done to depict him in glory. However, according to many historians, this curious idea of horn stems from a mistranslation of the Hebrew word karan, which can mean both shining and horned. Michelangelo created Moses just descended to his people in the desert, when his face was seen to shine with a divine light.

moses by michaelangelo
Soaked Bathsheba, Benjamin Mathew The veiled Christ, by Giuseppe Sammartino
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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