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St. Louis, Missouri
September 12, 2005
But that's not the real reason to visit. Tourists flock to this church to see one of Michelangelo's most impressive sculptures - the Moses. The piece is a part of the tomb of Pope Julius II, the man who commissioned, among other things, the Sistine Chapel, and who was more or less the bane of Michelangelo's existence. As a relatively young Michelangelo planned and began work on an elaborate freestanding tomb for Julius that would contain over 40 statues, the pope changed his mind and distracted the artist with an idea about painting a ceiling. Michelangelo begrudgingly yielded to the pope’s demand, frequently complaining that he would prefer finishing the tomb over working on the Sistine frescoes. Michelangelo eventually resumed work on the tomb, but before he could complete much of it, Julius died, and Julius's heirs proceeded to hound Michelangelo about the project for nearly 40 years. In his old age, Michelangelo would cite the incomplete work as one of his greatest disappointments and one of his greatest frustrations.
The tomb, as it stands now, was largely completed by other artists, and some of the pieces are almost painfully blank and awkward. Or maybe they only appear that way when viewed in such close proximity to the Moses. The tomb's centerpiece sculpture is amazing - Moses's beard blows and twists in an unseen wind, and his muscles bulge around the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. And don't be confused by the horns sticking out of Moses's head - a common Renaissance mistranslation of the Book of Exodus confused the rays of light coming from Moses into horns. But somehow, regardless of the strange protrusions, the work is marvelous, and definitely worth a viewing. Plus, there is no charge for admission to the church, and the chance to see such an amazing work for so cheap is hard to come by.
From journal A Study Abroad Semester in Rome
New York, New York
June 30, 2004
The vincoli, or chains, may have given the church its name, but today it’s best known for Michelangelo’s Moses. This amazing work of art captures Moses, armed with the Ten Commandments, just at the moment he makes ready to return to the Children of Israel. The dazzling statue was originally intended to be part of a gargantuan, monumental tomb for and commissioned by Pope Julius II. About a year into the project, however, the Pope changed his mind and ordered Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Four years later he returned to his work on the tomb, but in an on-again/off-again fashion. He died having only completed Moses and The Dying Slaves (now housed in the Louvre). His students eventually completed the few other figures that he started, but they remain a far cry from his intended number of 48 statues.
Regarding Moses’ little horns: They should really be beams of light and are the result of a wrong mediaeval translation of the Old Testament. The artist knew about the mistake, but chose to use it in order to capture the prophet’s anger. After all, he caught his people worshiping a golden calf god!
The church is located relatively close to the Colosseum and is open daily from 7am to 12:30pm and again from 3:30pm to 7pm. No admission fee is charged, but donations are appreciated.
From journal Rome: A Lifetime Is Not Enough