Rome – Michelangelo’s Moses

This colossal Moses, as you see, is seated, holding the two tables of the law pressed between his right arm and side and stroking his beard between his thumb and forefinger. His head is slightly turned to our right and, upon it, peeping out above the wavy locks of his thick hair, are two diminutive horns, the symbol of power and strength among the Israelites, who loved to sing, ” My horn wilt Thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn.” Moses has two horns, to show his exceptionally exalted position. Observe the droop of those powerful shoulders, the veins of the arm and hand and the folds of the robe as it falls over his giant-like knee. Notwithstanding the fact that the critics of a day have found much fault with it, declaring that the leg is too long for the foot and the head is too small for the beard, the longer we gaze upon it, the more we are impressed that the critics are all wrong, and that never was chiseled out of stone anything that represented so grandly the imperious will, the moral ascendency, and the ceaseless energy of an immortal and heroic leader as does this statue of Moses. What a lightning glance ! What masterful muscles ! What inherent dignity ! If, in the midst of some surging multitude mad with riot, he should start up and speak with that terrible voice of his, how the waves of human passion would cower and vanish, as did the storm on Galilee at the Master’s command. It is scarcely to be wondered at, as we are informed by Vasari, that, in the early years of its existence, the Jews of Rome used to come every Saturday, their Sabbath, and worship before this figure.

A stalwart Englishman with golf suit and cap, viewing the statue through the medium of a single eye-glass, affirmed, in the presence of a party of friends who stood beside him, that in his opinion, ” the gentleman had very fine features,” a compliment which ought to have made even a marble statue relax.

This wonderful work of art was intended to adorn a gigantic tomb of Julius II. The tomb was to be eighteen feet high and twelve feet wide, and was to have contained forty statues, but Julius died before this monument was fairly begun and no one survived him who thought enough of him to finish it.

The niche where the statue stands is altogether too small for it; indeed it would need the wide sweep and lofty height of Constantine’s Basilica or Aurelian’s mighty Temple of the Sun to do it justice.

It is said that Michelangelo created a new world of art, a colossal planet in which his Moses was high priest. Certainly in his daring energy, he produced stupendous results, which those who followed him could never imitate without becoming ridiculous or grotesque.

Up to this time, all our sight-seeing has been within the limits of the city, but our knowledge of Rome would not be satisfactory if we did not view its old walls and even look upon scenes beyond them. Right across the city at its southern extremity are two very interesting architectural monuments – the Gate of St. Paul and the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius. On our map of Rome we find them directly south of the Aventine Hill, near the lower map margin. The red lines there, with the number 40 attached, show where we are to stand, and that we shall be looking north.