Louvre Made Easy‎ > ‎

The Rebellious Slave and the Dying Slave


These are two sculptures by the famous Michelangelo. This was a work for the tomb of the Pope Julius II. He made two sculptures of which we see one here - "The Rebellious Slave" - coarse bodied man who is violently struggling, the other sculpture is called "The Dying Slave" and shows a young and handsome man sleeping deeply, who has surrendered.

 Experts are unclear as to what was all this supposed to mean. Why was it made to be on the Pope's tomb? It never made to the pope's tomb though, the project changed many times and Michelangelo was then invited to paint the ceilings of the Sistine chapel so he ended up donating the sculptures to Roberto Strozzi (he took care of Michelangelo in his home when he was sick) who bought them to France and presented them to the King. (he was exiled from Florence because he opposed Cosimo I de Medici who was part of the ruling family in Florence) .The sculptures stood in Chateau d'Ecouen until Cardinal Richelieu (yes, THAT cardinal Richelieu) to him to his private castle in Poitou in 1749 Duke Richelieu (another guy) took them to Pavillion de Hanovre and they were hidden until 1793 until the government acquired them.

Here are some guesses as to what it could have meant: - it could have symbolized the subjugated provinces? Or the Arts which were reduced to slavery by the Pope's death? Do they represent the human soul enslaved by the body? Or did Michelangelo want to show his own torments?

The sculptures are unfinished? Why? First of, having seemingly unfinished works seems to be pretty common for Micelangelo who played with the opposition of the sculpted, smooth marble and the rough, unfinished spots of the same material. He would also often abandon his works when he felt he couldn't achieve his ideal. A lot of marks of his tools are shown here. Another reason of why it was unfinished may be that the marble on the base is too thin. Or, simply, being called to paint the Sistine Chapel's ceilings he didn't think it was worth completing. 

The Rebellious Slave is very intense, the whole torso of the slave is twisted, he seems to be turning towards the viewer, almost rising. Another sculpture is the reverse - the slave has surrendered, he seems lifeless. Michelangelo  was probably inspired by Hellenistic sculptures which he had at his collection - Hellenistic sculptures often show a lot of emotion in faces. Specifically, Laocoon and his sons could have inspired Michelangelo to make this sculpture. Here's how it looked:

Michelangelo Buonarotti was a painter, scuptor, architect, engineer and poet of the High Renaissance Italy who is one of the most famous and influential artists who ever lived. Because he ventured into so many fields who is considered to be the archetypal "Renaissance man" (just like Leonardo da Vinci) - who knew many many disciplines. Michelangelo is the guy who painted the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel (though he had a low opinion of painting) and sculpted "David". He's probably one of the few artists you have actually heard of. In his lifetime he was often called 'Il Divino" (The Divine one). 

Michelangelo was born in Tuscany to a family of small-scale bankers. He was raised in Florence which was the capital of learning and arts at the time. His mother died when he was six and he lived with a stonecutter's family in a marble quarry that his father owned. Later he was sent to study under a Humanist Francesco da Urbino but showed no interest in schooling and just wanted to hang out with other artists and copy paintings from churches. Later, he went to be an apprentice and started being paid at the age of 14 when he started worked for the Medici court. in 1492 Michelangelo's patron Lorenzo de Medici died and he was expelled from Florence because a priest Savanarola took over Florence - he was a crazy monk who preached the destruction of everything secular and stood against clerical corruption and wanted to help the poor. Then Michelangelo went to Bologna and Venice finally making his way to Rome at the age of 21, then back to Florence and then to Rome and blah blah blah. Michelangelo was a devout Catholic. He was very away from a starving artists - he is one of those few who enjoyed great success and money during his lifetime. He did not live an indulgent life though - food was a neccessity for him, not pleasure, he often slept in his clothes and shoes. He was a solitary and melancholic man who withdrew himself from the company of people often. His autobiographer said that he had a monk-like chastity, but his sexuality showed through his sensual poems, sonnets and madrigals (over 300 in total) who were often devoted to men. His homoeroticism made the later generations uncomfortable, his grandnephew published his poems with all genders changed. He was in love with a widow Vittoria Colonna, they wrote sonnets to each other, she was one of the most popular poets of the 16th century - because her husband died early she had the time to develop her literary talents. A friend of Michelangelo heard him say that his sole regret in life was that he did not kiss Vittoria's face like he had kissed her hand.