(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)


Marble, height 235 cm
San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

Following the Pope's death in February 1513, Michelangelo signed a second contract with Julius's executors for a reduced version of the tomb to be completed within seven years. This still massive undertaking, which is recorded in documents and drawings, was for a three-sided structure attached to the wall. There were to be six figures on the cornice, while above the contract specified a 'capelletta', a tabernacle, with a sculpted image of the Virgin and Child. For this scheme he began the Moses as well as the figures known as the Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave (both in Louvre).

Assessment of the Moses is complicated by the fact that it is not in the position for which it was planned. Originally designed to stand some 4 metres above the ground, the statue was incorporated in the central recess of the finished tomb of 1545, only 1 m above floor-level. There are indications that most of the statue had been completed before it was decided to change the intended location. It has been observed that the figure's exaggeratedly long waist and withdrawn left leg would have enabled a viewer below to see the gesture made by the left arm. By bringing the statue closer to the spectator and squeezing it so uncomfortably within the completed monument, Michelangelo may have enhanced an effect of force and energy that could have been dissipated at longer range.

The resemblance is often noted between this work and Donatello's St John the Evangelist (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence), the proportions of which were also adapted to be seen from below. Unlike the St John, the Moses was planned as a corner figure standing free of the architecture and offering a number of subsidiary views. Yet the placement of the statue was Michelangelo's decision. Indeed the effect of confinement was even greater originally, when he set the work further back in the recess. (It was moved forward in 1816 when a cast was taken from it.)