Death of Michelangelo, sculptor of Moses and David

Michelangelo's Moses

18 February 1564 – 5 Adar 5324

Famed Italian artist Michelangelo Buonarroti passed away. Michelangelo is most famous for his Sisyphean labor of painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, lying on his back while slung in a harness from the high ceiling. But to Jews he’s most remembered as the man who depicted Moses the law-giver with horns on his head.  Michelangelo’s memorable marble statue of the greatest of prophets, created in 1513 to 1515, was originally intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II in St. Peter’s Basilica, but in the end it was placed after the pope’s death in the minor church of San Pietro in Vincoli, on the Esquiline in Rome. The reason for the horns Michelangelo gave Moses is believed to be the mistranslation of Exodus 34:29 appearing in the Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible. Moses’ face is actually described as “shining with rays of light,” which Jerome in the Vulgate had translated as “horns.” No-one raised an eyebrow in Rome, as Jews were termed “the Devil’s spawn” by the Gospel, and therefore Moses would “naturally” have had horns.

Michelangelo’s David was sculpted earlier, in 1501 to 1504, and shows David going out to fight Goliath, dressed in nothing but his sling-shot. The sculpture was designed as a symbol of the city of Florence’s independence under the rule of the Medici family.  Its nudity has been the subject of controversy since the statue’s creation, particularly within the church, and David has twice been vandalized as a result – once in 1510, and for the second time much more recently, in 1991.