Moses by Michelangelo

Michelangelo created Moses, the centerpiece of the final and much reduced version of the tomb of Pope Julius II, between 1513 and 1516. Moses was originally meant for the upper part of a much larger monument where it would have been seen from below. This explains the figure's unusually long torso and overly dramatic expression. Notice the swollen veins in his left arm and his massive shoulders, which seem too large in proportion to the neck.

Michelangelo's Moses from the Tomb of Pope Julius II
Michelangelo's Moses (8 feet 4 inches tall) is the
central figure in the tomb of Pope Julius II, located at
San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome.

Moses is clearly related to Michelangelo's mighty seated figures of prophets and sibyls on the Sistine ceiling. The horns upon the head of the figure are a curiosity of the Italian Renaissance. One of the biblical translations of "rays of light" became "horns" in Italian, and this mistranslation led to Moses being commonly portrayed with horns.

Michelangelo's Moses, Detail Head
Detail of Michelangelo's Moses, centerpiece in the
tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome.

In what is probably one of the most magnificent beards in the history of art, the locks fairly pour from Moses' broad angular face and are swept across the bulk of his chest by powerful hands.

Michelangelo's Moses, Detail Head
Another detail of Moses, from the tomb of Pope Julius II.

Notice how the face of Moses clearly recalls images of God on the Sistine ceiling, particularly the head of the Lord in Creation of Adam and Creation of Sun, Moon, and Plants. The knowledge Michelangelo gained from laboring over the frescoes is indeed reflected in his sculptural work of this period, especially in the freedom and magnificence, not seen in his earlier gigantic sculptures, with which he imbued the figure of Moses.

While Michelangelo ultimately finished the tomb of Pope Julius II, he created a series of sculptures of slaves which were not all finished. Learn more about these curious and beautiful statues in the next sections of this article.

To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see: