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Karpowitz, S.A. (1987). “The Love-Child” Freud's Essay on the Moses of Michelangelo. Psychoanal. Rev., 74(3):333-345.

(1987). Psychoanalytic Review, 74(3):333-345

“The Love-Child” Freud's Essay on the Moses of Michelangelo

Stephen A. Karpowitz, Ph.D.

“The Moses of Michelangelo” remains especially interesting to those who wish to understand the personality of Sigmund Freud. Parts of it are among his most lyrical and personal writings; yet, throughout, it is his least analytic work. Ostensibly he took up two subjects at once: Why did Michelangelo's statue of Moses affect him so deeply? And what is the true meaning of the figure's posture and expression? To answer one, Freud (1914) writes, is to answer the other, for the artist aims “to awaken in us the same emotional attitude, the same mental constellation as that which in him produced the impetus to create” (p. 212). My focus in this paper is on the personal factors that allowed Freud to overvalue the idea of Michelangelo's work. What, in truth, did it mean to him?

Freud agrees with most writers on the subject that Michelangelo portrayed Moses at a particular time in his life, when he descended from Mount Sinai with the Tables of the Law and saw his people worshipping the Golden Calf. Critics disagree over exactly which moment in time Michelangelo had chosen to portray. Most thought his Moses was about to rise up and smash the Tables, as in Exodus. Freud concluded that Michelangelo's Moses also has that impulse, but restrains himself, and chooses instead to sit arrested in his anger forever. As one critic with whom Freud agreed put it, the statue of Moses represents a character-type, not a historical figure. Freud's interpretation went further. The Moses of Michelangelo is preferable to the Biblical Moses, and superior to him. This

giant frame with its tremendous physical power becomes only a concrete expression of the highest mental achievement that is possible in a man—that of struggling successfully against an inward passion for the sake of a cause to which he has devoted himself. (p.

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