Historical Art

The Intriguing Interpretation of Horns in Michelangelo’s Sculpture — Moses

The horned head of Moses in Christian iconography

Kabir
Kabir
Sep 5, 2020 · 3 min read
Moses by Michelangelo
Source-Wikipedia

Michelangelo’s marble sculpture Moses

Moses bicorned head
Source-Wikipedia

Why Moses is depicted with horns in medieval Christian iconography

This dates back to Ancient Hebrew which was difficult to comprehend. Moses spent days on Mount Sinai taking down God’s words of the Ten Commandments when his face was glorified emitting rays of light called “qeren” in Hebrew (which also means “horn”).

When St. Jerome translated the Hebrew version of the Bible into the Latin Vulgate, the Hebrew “horn” meaning emitting light or glorified face was misinterpreted into the Vulgate as “literal horns.”

The medieval theologians and scholars felt that St. Jerome's intention was to express the glorification of Moses' face but the literal translation was misinterpreted and persisted as horns through the renaissance.

Depictions of horned Moses in medieval Christian iconography

Michelangelo was not the first artist to depict horns on Moses' sculpture. Several wall frescos, paintings have seen Moses with horns.

Vilnius Cathedral Moses
Source- Wikimedia Commons
Well of Moses in the Dijon Museum
Source-Wikipedia
Horned Moses in St. Andrews Church
Source-Wikipedia

Last thoughts

The linguistic blunder and mistranslation led to the depiction of horns on Moses — a feature commonly associated with the devil.

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Kabir

Written by

Kabir

Aspiring Writer, Former Data Engineer, Life-Long Learner, Fervent and Authentic. Check my website ➡️ www.kamnakirti.com

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing.

Kabir

Written by

Kabir

Aspiring Writer, Former Data Engineer, Life-Long Learner, Fervent and Authentic. Check my website ➡️ www.kamnakirti.com

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing.

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