Friday, October 15, 2010

What's up, Michelangelo?

I always wondered why some sculptures of Moses, including this one from Michelangelo, looked like this (do you see what I see?):


Moses has horns!?! I learned today that it was due to a mistranslation of the Latin Vulgate of the theophany described in Exodus 34. Exodus 34:29 reads, "Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God." The word "shone" here is the verb קָרַן which is a very rare verb in the OT (which can cause translation problems as we can see here). In one sense, it can mean "to send out rays" but in another "to display horns." The Latin Vulgate translates this verse as: "cumque descenderet Moses de monte Sinai tenebat duas tabulas testimonii et ignorabat quod cornuta esset facies sua ex consortio sermonis Dei." The verb here is translated as cornuta which is a derivation of the word cornu for "horn." I guess it's too bad for Moses that one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance didn't read Hebrew...

4 comments:

Howard said...

the artist should've taken rigsby.

Mike S. said...

Howard: Hahah! Rigsby isn't that old!

ruthbrowning said...

The answer is in the question. Ask yourself: how do you show rays of light in marble? Answer by adding something that can't possibly be there in reality - you show something coming from the head of the statue. It's representational.

Mike S. said...

ruth: I suppose your observation may be right, but the fact that there's only two coming out of his head and at specific locations seems to me more like horns rather than rays of light.