Michelangelo’s Moses and the Mindblowing Details

March 25, 2024

Michelangelo’s Moses is a marble sculpture made in 1513–15. One of the details of this masterpiece is one very small muscle in the forearms that contracts only when lifting the pinky, otherwise it is invisible.

Michelangelo’s Moses is one of the six statues that adorned the Tomb of Pope Julius II, reflecting the ambitions and aspirations of Michelangelo as an artist. Completed in 1515, the sculpture is a sitting figure measuring around five feet (235 cm) in height. The figure carries the Ten Commandments under his muscular arms and looks to his left with an intense expression in his eyes. Michaelangelo’s Moses also has horns which probably results from a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for rays of light.

Michelangelo's Moses and the Mindblowing Details | themindcircleWeb Gallery of Art

Although sitting, the statue of Moses has a rather energetic pose. That is, his left leg is pulled back, suggesting that Moses is actually about to rise. Furthermore, the figure’s hip also faces the left while the torso does the opposite. Likewise, Moses turns his head to the left while pulling his beard to the right, creating a more dynamic figure even in a sitting position.

Michelangelo's Moses and the Mindblowing Details | themindcirclemineralvarado

Besides the dynamic pose, the anatomical details such as the veins and defined muscles give the sculpture a more life-like appearance. Nevertheless, one detail on the forearm of Moses stands out as an indicator of Michelangelo’s great knowledge of the human body. The detail is an extensor muscle called digiti minimi that only becomes visible when the pinky finger is lifted. This kind of observation and intricate detailing is mindblowing for a sculpture made in the early 16th century.

Michelangelo's Moses and the Mindblowing Details | themindcircle_likealeaf

While sculpting Moses, Michelangelo was probably inspired by the medieval concept of man as a microcosm, as well. So, he integrated some allegorical features. For instance, the flowing beard evokes water, the twisting hair seems like fire, and the heavy drape suggests earth.

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