Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Go down Moses

One of the stranger art imports to New Zealand has been the life-size replica of Michelangelo’s Moses that was “specially commissioned” as a “work of art in its own right” by Auckland department store Milne & Choice in 1971 to celebrate its 100 anniversary. The previous year the store had imported a marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta but the Moses (according to the store’s brochure) posed its own “considerable transport and handling problems.”  And we assume considerable storage problems as the following year it was donated to the city.

The ‘life-sized’ figure of Moses arrived complete with two horns sticking out of its marbly forehead, protrusions still considered at that time (Michelangelo’s not Milne & Choice’s) to be a fair representation of the prophet's glory when he came down from his meeting with God (Exodus 34:29). The piece was carved in Carrara marble by the same team that had put chisel to stone for the Pieta job and was exact down to “its foot, worn down by the kisses of untold millions of pilgrims.”

Just over 40 years later (late last year) the Vatican finally allowed a cast to be made of its Moses (previously the replicas had to be carved based on models) and a bronze version, authorized by the Italian Ministry of the Cultural Goods and Activities, was cooked up for The Most Precious Blood Church in New York. And so another Moses has been added to the many hundreds of marble and stone versions scattered throughout the world. Auckland’s one sits in Myers Park at the bottom of the stairs leading up to St Kevin’s Arcade and K Road.

But not all has been sweetness and light in the world of Moses replicas. A couple of years ago a full sized Marble Moses was toppled in an act of road rage (seriously). Brendan Pemberton, enraged by a traffic citation tipped the Moses sitting in the Worcester District Court off its podium and onto its back. From this position it became obvious to everyone that the 148 year-old sculpture, recently renovated to the tune of $20,000, was in fact hollow and made of plaster.  It has since been reinforced and returned to the courthouse. 
Images: Top, the Myers Park Moses photographed by Peter Peryer. Second row, Moses copies in Poland and US followed by bronze Moses in New York. Bottom, the toppled Moses and finally, a record of the restoration work done to get it up and sitting again. 
(and thanks for your help Auckland Libraries)