The Antisemitic Origin of Michelangelo's Horned Moses
Rather than reflecting, as many have claimed, a benign "mis-translation" of Exodus 34 by St. Jerome, the horns on Michelangelo's famous statue of Moses are emblematic of a millennium-long tradition of antisemitism that stretched from antiquity to the days of the Italian Renaissance. Both through literary invective and iconography, Jews were portrayed as horned devils ministering to Satan. The recent cleaning of the paintings of the Sistine Chapel has revealed how Michelangelo adorned a portrait of Aaron's father-in-law with a circular yellow badge of shame, an antisemitic symbol common in Renaissance Italy that became the precursor of the yellow Magen David imposed on Jews by the Nazis five centuries later. By endowing Moses with horns, Michelangelo not only mocked the giver of the Ten Commandments but also satirized his nemesis Pope Julius II, whom the facial features of the portrait resemble.