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San Pietro in Vincoli

San Pietro in Vincoli (12)

Obviously the main interest that this church holds is that inside is the sculpture of the famous Moses by Michelangelo. To be able to appreciate it calmly without masses of people around it is best to try and get there early in the morning.

The Moses is located in front of the unfinished tomb of Pope Julius II. When the Pope commissioned Michelangelo with the construction of his tomb, the artist spent 8 months looking for blocks of marble in Carrara, but soon the Pope asked him to concentrate on other projects. So Michelangelo abandoned this work to focus on painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. When this happened, he had only finished the statues of Moses, Victory and that of The Moribund Slaves, referring to the limitations of human life, now on show in Paris and Florence. 

Michelangelo’s original project was an enormous structure with more than 40 sculptures that would be placed beneath the dome of Saint Peter of the Vatican. The project became less ambitious, however, mainly due to lack of funds, and with the pontiff now dead, Michelangelo designed it as an enclosed sepulchre. 

The statue of Moses was sculpted from a single piece of Carrara marble between 1513 and 1516. This image of Moses after returning from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments is a large-scale piece of work and possesses an incredible strength. It captures the moment in which Moses turns his head and is about to stand up, full of rage before the lack of faith of his people. His frown shows the anger after seeing them worship the golden calf. And the two horns on its head should really be two beams of light, the result of a bad translation of the Hebrew of the Old Testament. The artist suggests potential movement: the muscles are tense, but there is no movement in progress.  The model is perfect; Michelangelo has worked the marble, his favourite material, as if it were the softest plasticine. The anatomical study is of a stunning naturalism. The clothes fall in folds where light and shade play giving the figure volume. If you pay attention to the knees of the Moses, you will be able to see a small scratch that it is said Michelangelo caused by throwing a tool at the sculpture. 

The Moses is flanked by the statues of Leah and Rachel, Jacob’s two wives, who represent the meaning of contemplative life and active life. It is believed they were completed by one of Michelangelo’s pupils, possibly Raffaele da Montelupo.

Some people want to see in the Moses an idealised portrait of the sculptor himself or Pope Julius II.

As well as the Moses, this church also has the attraction of possessing a highly-valued relic. They are the chains of Saint Peter, which are below the main altar. The legend tells that the chains that Saint Peter wore in his two prison sentences in Jerusalem and Rome, when one was placed alongside the other, were miraculously fused together. When this occurred, it was Empress Eudoxia who ordered the church to be built, for the precise reason of keeping these chains inside. 

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