Have you ever looked at a sampler and wondered why it looks the way it does and what is behind it all.
Tablet Samplers are very beautiful particularly the ones with flowing floral borders. They are very reminiscent of the hymn boards in English churches. There is one particular form of Tablet Sampler that makes us ask “Why?”.
They are the ones that feature two men in long robes either side of The Tablets that contain The Ten Commandments. The men are Moses and his brother Aaron.
On all the tablet samplers we have found Moses is depicted with two horns coming out of his head. Why?
In a Church in Rome called San Pieto in Vincoli or St Peter in Chains there is a magnificent sculpture of Moses by Michelangelo which he considered to be his finest and most outstanding sculpture.
Mystery surrounds this larger than life piece of marble. As a commission given to Michelangelo in 1515 by Pope Julius II to decorate his tomb, Moses was to be the top centerpiece among 40 statues.
Why did Michelangelo put two goat like horns on Moses?
Scholars believe Moses’ horns stemmed from a mistranslation of Hebrew scriptures into Latin by St. Jerome, called the Vulgate. It was the Latin translation of the Bible used at that time. Moses is described as having “rays of the skin of his face.” Jerome translated it to horns from the word keren, which means either radiated or grew horns.
Horns were a symbol of wisdom and rulership in ancient times.
Michelangelo was not the only artist to put horns on Moses. Several paintings and sculptures from the medieval and renaissance era depict him this way and can still be seen in churches and museums.
The medieval painting “Fresco of God” – St. Andrews Church, England
Well of Moses, 1395 museum in Dijon
It will never be known why Michelangelo gave Moses horns but for whatever the reason, his Moses is far from the Charlton Heston version in the movie, The Ten Commandments.
In the scene where he comes down from the mountain, his hair is streaked in white and his face radiates light, but no horns.
On a side note Michelangelo did have a sense of humour.
After finishing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Pope Clement VII commissioned a Fresco for the Altar Wall. Between 1536 and 1541 Michelangelo was working on The Last Judgment. It measures 40 feet wide and 45 feet high and contains 400 figures of saints, demons, sinners and saved souls.
The Pope’s Master of Ceremonies, a high church official objected to all the naked genitals on display and ordered that they be covered as The Sistine Chapel is a very Holy Place and is where Popes are elected.
Michelangelo thought that this man was a fool and painted his likeness as a nude Minos, Hells demonic judge of sinners with a snake coiled around his body. The snake looks as if he is about to eat a certain part of his body. Then to really show his annoyance with this Priest he painted long donkey ears onto his likeness suggesting that he was a fool.
Our interest in samplers takes us down many a road in our search for the answer to “Why?”