The biblical Moses was a religious leader and prophet who liberated the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. Admired by Christians and Muslims, as well as Jews, Moses is credited with receiving the written law, or Torah, from God. In the biblical account, Moses received two stone tablets setting forth the essential tenets of the Jewish religion, known as The Ten Commandments.
The figure of Moses has been a subject for artists throughout the centuries. The statue of Moses on this panel was created between 1513 and 1515 by the great Italian artist Michelangelo for the tomb of Pope Julius II. It shows the biblical Moses glaring irately at the Jews after coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments and finding that they had built a golden calf for their worship.
Many medieval Christians believed that Jews had horns on their heads, based on a mistranslation of a biblical passage by St. Jerome, who lived from 347-420. Moses was said to have given off "hornlike rays" of light, but in the middle ages, this was interpreted to mean that all Jews had horns. Michelangelo's famous sculpture for the Pope's tomb reinforced the medieval superstition, which unfortunately continues to this day.
Moses has been a popular name among Jews throughout the ages, and many famous Jews bear this name, including the great rabbi Moses Maimonides, the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and the philanthropist Moses Montefiore, who are depicted at the bottom of this panel.