Michelangelo’s Ridiculous Mouse

Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus went the old Latin joke: The mountains labor and give birth to…a silly mouse!

Tomb of Pope Julius II in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. Photo by Jean-Christophe BENOIST
GNU Free Documentation License here.

The Pope Julius tomb in San Pietro in Vincoli is a ridiculous mouse if ever there was one. For thirty years the mountain labored. “If only it had been a mountain,” Michelangelo would say. “But the mountain was me. And it wasn’t mere labor, it was torture.”

The “mouse” came out so ugly that it is lucky Michelangelo’s reputation had already been secured by the time the tomb was shown to the public. They all went there to see his great statue—the Moses—and had to cover the rest of the tomb with their hand while they looked, just as we do now. The two ladies left and right of the Moses are also by the Master but they might as well have been by someone else. Michelangelo, lying now in his own grave, will probably wince once more to hear it mentioned that all the other figures in their tight niches, though executed (in both senses) by other sculptors, were made according to his drawings. And, whether he groans or not as I say it, that whole wall of a tomb was his design.

God knows he tried. “I lost the whole of my youth, chained to this tomb…,” he wrote; “….it was my ruin”. If it had been up to him, the tomb would have made the Mausoleum of Caria look like a pile of bricks. It would have been a kind of Sistine Chapel in sculpture, with forty statues like the Moses and the Slaves.

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6 Responses to Michelangelo’s Ridiculous Mouse

  1. Pingback: Michelangelo’s Most Powerful Statue « The Best Artists

  2. cantueso says:

    It would be nice if you could say why those other statues have to be seen as ugly. I sure hate to admit it, but I can’t see a big difference between that Moses and the people surrounding him. You seem to take it for granted that such a difference is a fact visible to all, but it isn’t.

  3. neeMcM says:

    Ah, Cantueso, yours is a 1000 dollar question that can’t be answered just like that. Furthermore, it was good old Kant who said that these things exist only in our mind and not in the world around us, and so everyone can try and come up with some theory.

    In this present case the idea is that, instead of asking all those swallows to figure out what the difference between those figures really is, you will have to sit back and find out in what regard all those figures are the same or similar.

    And, please, do not fail to let me know the results of your cogitations.

  4. Beth Xavier says:

    I do not have an art education but is seems Moses has more action.He is frowning,leaning forward.You want to look to the side to see what he is looking at.The other statues seem much quieter

  5. will says:

    If you are interested, there is a very interesting paper written by Sigmund Freud in 1914 ‘Der Moses des Michelangelo’ who analyses Moses’ position with amazing thoroughness and provides an original, and fascinating interpretation ; SF concludes that, at variance with most interpretations of this statue, Moses is not going to raise in anger, but on the contrary, that he controls his anger and refrain from raising his body upright.

    “As our eyes travel down it the figure exhibits three distinct emotional strata. The lines of the face reflect the feelings Moses (Michelangelo) which have won ascendancy; the middle of the figure shows the traces of suppressed movement; and the foot still retains the attitude of the projected action. It is as though the controlling influence had proceeded downwards from

    When two superior giants of mankind like Buonarotti and Freud talk together across the centuries, it is great to listen to them, isn’t it!

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