Michelangelo, Moses, and the Tomb of Pope Julius II

Michelangelo, Moses, and the Tomb of Pope Julius II


(calming piano music) – [Dr. Steven] We’re in the
church of San Pietro in Vincoli, St. Peter in Chains in Rome, looking at the tomb of the Pope Julius II. – [Dr. Beth] One of
Michelangelo’s biographers referred to this project
as the tragedy of the tomb and that’s because it just
went on and on and on. – [Dr. Steven] Julius II
commissioned Michelangelo to produce a tomb of
an unprecedented scale. He wanted as many as 47
over life sized figures. – [Dr. Beth] And a multi
storied free standing 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. – [Dr. Steven] 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. – [Dr. Beth] And that was the destination for this tomb originally. It wasn’t supposed to be here, a church that was actually
associated with Julius’ 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. – [Dr. Steven] This is a wall tomb and it’s much smaller than
what was originally envisioned. In addition, there is only
one large scale figure by Michelangelo and that
is the central figure, the figure of Moses. – [Dr. Beth] Two other figures
were completed for the tomb, but those are in the Louvre, the dying slave and the rebellious slave. – [Dr. Steven] 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, there are actually a number
of unfinished sculptures that Michelangelo had originally
intended for this tomb. – [Dr. Beth] There is some confusion about exactly what Michelangelo meant by these slaves or captives. One of his biographers
offered the interpretation that these represent the arts, the arts of for example painting,
sculpture and architecture that Julius II was such a great patron of that would be captive
because of Julius II’s death. – [Dr. Steven] A kind of
mourning, a kind of agony that they had lost their
greatest benefactor. – [Dr. Beth] 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 is an incredibly ambitious tomb. – [Dr. Steven] But most importantly, Michelangelo was to produce
a portrait of Julius II, an effigy, and it’s
interesting that Michelangelo actually avoided sculpting
that particular figure and instead focused on the
Old Testament Prophet Moses. – [Dr. Beth] 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. – [Dr. Steve] 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. – [Dr. Beth] Power is a
really good word here. This is a seated figured. Sitting is not a very active pose, but Michelangelo has filled this figure with energy and drama and tension. – [Dr. Steven] Look at the
way his left foot pushes back as if he’s gonna 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. – [Dr. Beth] As he
pulls his left leg back, his hips shift naturally
in that direction, but his shoulders turn 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. – [Dr. Steven] The 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. – [Dr. Beth] 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 a sense of the
presence of something that Moses is looking out to. – [Dr. Steven] So what is that? – [Dr. Beth] 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. – [Dr. Steven] Moses is the
great symbol of monotheism, but the Israelites have reverted to the polytheism of Ancient Egypt. – [Dr. Beth] So perhaps that is the focus of that very angry gaze, although there is also a sense that the tablet seem to be slipping from between his torso and his arm and so there is a question of what moment this is in the narrative. This problem pinning
down what moment this is or what the captives or slaves represent, this is not unusual for Michelangelo. – [Dr. Steven] He may not be representing a specific moment, he may be creating a distillation, a figure that can represent the continuity of that story overtime. – [Dr. Beth] One art historian
has talked about the ways that perhaps Michelangelo
in Moses and in The Slaves and in other work is in 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. – [Dr. Steven] 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 across the figure. – [Dr. Beth] We recognize
figures by their attributes and the 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 50 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 II. – [Dr. Steven] In the end, Moses became the central
figure in the tomb for Julius, but it’s important to remember
that the tomb that we see now is just a shadow of Julius
II’s initial ambitions. (calming piano music)

18 Replies to “Michelangelo, Moses, and the Tomb of Pope Julius II”

  1. thanks from those of us who did not make it to college,or could not afford Italy !!!
    this reminds me of Bach cantata 109?

  2. I love these videos and how they done in the conversational style. Is there any chance of seeing a Hieronymus Bosch video?

  3. According to a note of the Jerusalem Bible the Vulgata translation isn't wrong but literal.
    The word qeren really means horn, end in this case there is a verb that is a variation of the word: qaran.
    The word qeren also appears in many psalms. It was a symbol of might, power, glory, etc.
    *Forgive my English. My native language is Portuguese and my English is about intermediate a think.

  4. I can't ever decide if The Pieta or Moses is my favorite, but every time I see them I am completely captured by the emotion of the pieces. They speak volumes, even after 500 years and yet still, no one knows exactly what they're saying.

  5. The horns on Moses head may not be a mistranslation…., Moses may have had rays of light coming from his head when he came down from Mount Sinai but he also may have had horns instead of rays… Horns were on the ram… the male dominant of a flock. The flock was everything to the Israelites they were their money their clothing their food their wealth…. everything ….and when someone was willing to sacrifice their largest most healthy most vigorous male Ram up to God they were giving up all of the offspring that Ram would ever produce so they were giving up alot if they gave it back to God In essance that sacrifice was saying "we trust God to be the one who is making us wealthy not this ram" Sacrificing a big healthy reproductive aged male ram was done to show great trust and appreciation to God. If God put horns upon Moses head God was showing the Israelites that Moses was the head of the flock and should be listened to. So since the translation could mean either "rays" or "horns" Michelangelo took the biblical script describing what Moses looked like after he came down from Mount Sinai and the majority of translators that he took it to said that the translation should read "horns upon the head" So Michaelangelo sculpted the horns upon the head of his sculpture of Moses.

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