Thursday, July 4, 2013

Statue Week: Some Michelangelo Factlets


Many artistic depictions from the Renaissance and Middle Ages depict Moses with horns. Perhaps the most famous example is Michelangelo's Moses from tomb of Pope Julius II:

This is because of St Jerome’s incorrect translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin. In the Hebrew text, Moses comes down the mountain after receiving the commandments, his face radiant and shining. The Hebrew word for “horned” is “karan”, but in the context of Moses being radiant, it was meant to indicate “shining” or “emitting rays”, perhaps a bit like a horn. St Jerome, however, took it literally and so it was that Moses was horned. It has been suggested that Michelangelo was aware of the mistranslation (by the 16th century the depiction of Moses with horns had substantially declined) but that because of his hostile feelings towards Julius 11, he added the horns as an insult.


The Pieta by Michelangelo (1475- 1564), carved when he was 23-27 years old, is the only work of his that he ever signed. Shortly after the Pieta was displayed, he overhead someone describe the work as being that of another sculptor. He thereupon grabbed his hammer and chisel and carved into the Virgin’s sash across her chest “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this”. Michelangelo later regretted his outburst of pride and swore never to sign another work of his works.


In 1972 mentally disturbed Hungarian-born Australian geologist Laszlo Toth walked into the chapel and attacked the sculpture with a geologist’s hammer. Shouting "I am Jesus Christ – risen from the dead” he struck the statue with fifteen blows, removed Mary's arm at the elbow, knocked off a large part of her nose and chipped one of her eyelids. Toth was subdued by bystanders. Onlookers took many of the pieces of marble that flew off. Later, some pieces were returned, but many were not, including Mary's nose, which had to be reconstructed from a block cut out of her back. Toth was not tried because of his mental condition. He was deported to Australia and resides in a nursing  at Strathfield, not far from your writer.


Not a statue factlet but interesting . . .

Michelangelo's The Last Judgment, created between 1536 and 1541, shows Saint Bartholomew holding the knife of his martyrdom and his flayed skin. The face of the skin is recognizable as Michelangelo.


As already noted, Michelangelo disliked Pope Julius 11 intensely. Painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he used Julius’s head and face on the body of the prophet Zechariah and placed a cherub behind giving him an insulting sexual finger gesture known as “the fig”. Read about the fig here:


When invited back 3 decades later to paint the wall behind the altar, his feelings and opinions hadn’t changed – he placed the gates of Hell  directly behind the Pope’s chair and altar:

The gates of Hell, detail from The last Judgment, full work below

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