Moses by Michelangelo, Rome, 2009
“Moses, Moses, Moses.” – Nefretiri, in “The Ten Commandments” (1956)
I was planning to make another blog post today about my recent trip to Nevada, but I decided to go with something different after watching an episode of “Secrets of The Dead” on PBS last night. That episode was called “Michelangelo Revealed,” and though first broadcast a couple of years ago, this was the first time that I had seen it.
Basically, it was about an investigation made by an Italian art conservator named Antonio Forcellino, who was working on the restoration of Michelangelo’s famous statue of Moses, which is part of the tomb of Pope Julius II in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains) in Rome. Forcellino noticed that parts of Moses were atypically asymmetrical, which led to an investigation that found Michelangelo to apparently be part of a reformist group within the Catholic Church called the spirituali.
This group embraced more Protestant ideals than Catholic orthodoxy, basically believing that salvation came from personal faith and not really involving priests, bishops, Popes or the Church. Not surprisingly, there were those in the church hierarchy who didn’t like this idea of giving up their influence. An English cardinal from the reformers even came close to becoming pope, but one of the conservatives won out and began an inquisition that Michelangelo feared, causing him to burn all of his notes and drawings shortly before he died.
Among the things which the conservatives didn’t like about Michelangelo was that his painting of “The Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel included a lot of nude figures, but apparently what upset them even more was that the artist did not include any church hierarchy types in his painting. It was just Jesus and the people below.
As for Moses, the investigation found that Michelangelo had apparently changed the orientation of Moses’ head from facing forward, toward the church’s altar, to facing toward his left. This was one of his ways of lessening the importance of the Church.
However, that altar was crucial in my being able to take my photo of Moses and the tomb that you see here. The church interior is not very bright, and there’s even a box into which a coin can be dropped that will turn on a light for a short time. (It was there when I visited in 1990 and it was still there in 2009.)
There was no way I could do an exposure handheld, but there was just enough room on the edge of the altar’s structure for me to set down my little table tripod, which I always carry in my camera bag. I made half a dozen shots, each several seconds as I recall. I like the results.
As for the program itself, check your PBS listings or view the complete episode on the PBS website here.