Moses and the Sistine Chapel

When visitors enter the Sistine Chapel, they naturally focus on Michelangelo’s ceiling, and with good reason. But that means the fabulous frescos on the side walls tend to get ignored. Botticelli Trials of MosesIronically, even if Michelangelo had never painted a thing in the Sistine Chapel, it would still be well worth the ticket-price to come and take a look at the Old and New Testament series of frescos that line the chapel walls. This stunning (and very complex!) piece known as The Trials of Moses is a case in point: it was painted by Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli, who was loaned to Pope Sixtus IV by his patron Lorenzo de Medici specifically to produce this brilliant work.

It’s a complex picture, because it contains numerous different scenes of the early life of Moses, as recounted in the Book of Exodus. Let’s see how many we can identify:

  1. Moses kills an Egyptian who was harassing a Hebrew.
  2. After the killing, Moses is obliged to flee into the desert.
  3. Moses fights the shepherds who were harassing the daughters of Jethro, and preventing them from watering their livestock at the well.
  4. After driving them away, Moses helps Jethro’s daughters to water the animals himself.
  5. Moses takes off his shoes, to approach the burning bush.
  6. When he approaches the burning bush, God commands him to lead His people out of Egypt.
  7. In obedience to God’s command, Moses leads a group of Hebrews to the Promised Land.

If study the fresco, it soon becomes quite easy to recognize Moses in each of the different scenes, because he is invariably wearing gold (and often green). Can you find the seven scenes listed above?

Now let’s face it: if you’ve been in the Sistine Chapel on your own, without a guide to point out to you in advance the different artistic elements it contains, the odds are pretty high that you don’t even remember this first-class piece of artwork. There’s no question that Michelangelo’s ceiling deserves a lot of attention–but ignoring the other top-notch works of art in the chapel is a crying shame. If you tour with us, we’ll give you the full story on all the frescos in the Sistine Chapel, and make sure you can spend as much time there as you need to appreciate them all!

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