Art History Lab

Unraveling the Mysteries of Michelangelo’s Moses Statue

Michelangelo’s Statue of Moses and the Original Intention

Michelangelo’s statue of Moses is a breathtaking work of art that showcases the skilled artist’s ability to capture the essence of his subjects through stone. Situated in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, the statue depicts Moses sitting, his face etched with a stern expression, and his hands clasping the Ten Commandments.

The statue has drawn countless visitors over the years, many of whom have been fascinated by the details of Michelangelo’s work and the original intention behind it. Michelangelo’s inspiration for the statue of Moses was drawn from the Book of Exodus in the Bible, where Moses is described as descending Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments in his hands.

Michelangelo’s depiction of Moses is not a serene or pacifist figure but instead presents a powerful and imposing patriarch, cradling the inscribed tablets of the law. It is said that Michelangelo gave particular attention to capturing the feelings of rage that he believed Moses was experiencing as he observed his Hebrew people becoming engrossed in idol worship during his absence.

The details of Moses’ flowing beard, muscular limbs, furrowed brow, and two horns protruding from his forehead in the sculpture remain a point of intrigue. According to some sources, Michelangelo may have believed that the word used to describe rays of light in the Hebrew Testament could also be interpreted as horns.

This interpretation could have led him to create the effect of horns to the prophet’s forehead.

Michelangelo as an Artist

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni is recognised as one of the greatest artists in history, known for his skill as a sculptor, painter, and architect. Born in 1475, Michelangelo began his artistic journey as an apprentice to a painter before transitioning to sculpture.

Michelangelo’s works are known for their incredible use of technique and ingenuity, widely regarded as being ahead of their time aesthetically. Michelangelo’s style of art emphasises the human form, an aspect that was unique compared to other art movements at the time.

To study human anatomy, Michelangelo joined the University of Bologna’s anatomy course as a guest student, which allowed him to observe corpses. Michelangelo’s Biographical Information

Michelangelo was born in Tuscany to a family of noble lineage.

Despite his father’s disapproval, Michelangelo pursued a career in art, and his artistic prowess was established at the age of 23 when he created his first masterpiece, the Pieta. The Pieta is a marble sculpture of Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus and is on display in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy.

Throughout his life, Michelangelo created a range of works that are celebrated today, including the David sculpture, frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the Last Judgement. Despite his fame, Michelangelo was known to be temperamental and difficult to work with.

He worked tirelessly throughout his life, even up to his last days, to complete a variety of projects that became his hallmark works.


In summary, Michelangelo’s statue of Moses remains an iconic work of art that continues to awe visitors to the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. Through the statue, Michelangelo captured both Moses’ rage and strength, creating a timeless work that speaks to the artist’s incredible skill.

Michelangelo’s biography, artistic style, and range of work will continue to inspire future generations of artists and art enthusiasts. Description and Symbolism of Michelangelo’s Moses Statue

Michelangelo’s statue of Moses stands nearly eight and a half feet tall and is carved from a single block of marble.

Moses is depicted sitting on a throne-like bench with his left arm supporting the tablets of the law and his right hand resting on his beard. The statue’s facial features are powerful and convey a sense of anger and intensity, with furrowed eyebrows and a tightly pursed mouth.

One of the most striking features of the sculpture is the two horns emanating from Moses’ forehead. This detail has sparked much debate and discussion amongst scholars, with various interpretations emerging.

Interpretations and Symbolism

Some scholars believe that the horns are a symbol of Moses’ power, equating them to the horns of an animal, traditionally a symbol of strength and vigour. Others interpret the horns as representing the rays of light that emanate from Moses’ head as he descends from Mount Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments.

This interpretation is based on a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for “rays of light” that historically could have been misinterpreted as “horns”. Another theory suggests that Michelangelo may have included the horns in response to Anti-Semitic accusations that the Jews were devil-worshippers.

By depicting Moses with horns, Michelangelo was perhaps offering a defence of the Jewish people’s beliefs and customs. Michelangelo’s Portrayal of Moses with Horns – Historical context and Interpretations

Michelangelo’s decision to include horns in his depiction of Moses was not unusual in Renaissance art.

The depiction of biblical figures with horns can be traced back to early Christian artwork, and it is believed that Michelangelo would have been familiar with this tradition. In Michelangelo’s time, there was renewed interest in the study of Greek and Roman classics, and there was a resurgence of Pagan themes within Christian art.

There was also a growing interest in the ancient Hebrew language and a desire to learn more about Jewish customs and beliefs. Michelangelo’s inclusion of the horns in his depiction of Moses may have been a nod to these intellectual movements.

The Latin Vulgate interpretation and Translation Error

The inclusion of horns in Michelangelo’s statue of Moses is not present in the original Exodus text and is instead a result of a translation error. The original word used in the Hebrew text is “karan” which translates to “to shine” or “to emit rays of light.” However, as the Old Testament was translated into Latin, the word “karan” was translated to “cornuta”, a word in Latin that can mean “horned”.

This mistranslation began to appear in artwork from the medieval period and continued through to Michelangelo’s time. In summary, Michelangelo’s statue of Moses stands as an enduring masterpiece that continues to captivate art enthusiasts and scholars.

The sculpture’s intricate details, expressive features, and thought-provoking incorporation of horns have left an indelible mark on the world of Renaissance art. Whether the horns were intended to symbolise Moses’ power, the rays of light emanating from his head, or to offer a defence against anti-Semitic accusations, the artwork remains a captivating portrayal of a biblical hero.

In conclusion, Michelangelo’s statue of Moses is a remarkable work of Renaissance art that has captivated people for centuries. The sculpture’s intricate details, expressive features, and thought-provoking incorporation of horns have left an indelible mark on the world of art and symbolise the perceived power and strength of Moses.

The sculptures’ inaccuracies, mistranslations, and intentional symbolism all add depth to the work’s interpretation, making it a fascinating topic for art enthusiasts and scholars. Michelangelo’s representation provides insights into how people viewed artists and biblical history in the past and is a reminder of the power that art wields in shaping our perception of the world around us.

The statue inspires questions, debates, and theories that continue to fascinate people today.

Popular Posts