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Watkins, J.G. (1951). Concerning Freud's Paper on “The Moses of Michelangelo”. Am. Imago, 8(1):61-63.

(1951). American Imago, 8(1):61-63

Concerning Freud's Paper on “The Moses of Michelangelo”

John G. Watkins, Ph.D.

In this contribution Freud analyzes the meaning of the pose in a well-known piece of sculptured art. In the statue Moses is portrayed seated with two tablets under his right arm. The right hand holds back with the index finger several strands of the left side of Moses's beard. The left hand is held against the abdomen; while the face of the patriarch is turned to the left with the expression of “wrath, pain and contempt.” Many art critics had previously interpreted this pose as representing the moment when Moses first returned from Mt. Sinai and perceived the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf. They hypothesized that he is being shown at that instant just prior to flinging down the tablets and thundering his wrath at the people, as reported in the Biblical story.

By a careful analysis of the posture Freud concludes that the sculptor, Michelangelo, has prevented the breaking of the tablets and altered the scriptural text. On page 283 Freud states, “He (Michelangelo) has modified the theme of the broken Tables; he does not let Moses break them in his wrath, but makes him be influenced by the danger that they will be broken and calm that wrath, or at any rate prevent it from becoming an act.

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