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Work: Rebel slave

Copy of sculpture

Rebel slave (cast in plaster)


215 cm high
cast from the original
alabaster plaster
Renaissance Sculpted movement


Michelangelo Buonarroti
1513 about
215 cm high
Louvre Museum, ParisSi apre in una nuova finestra


“Desti a me quest’anima divina e poi la imprigionasti in un corpo debole e fragile, com’è triste viverci dentro.” Michelangelo

“You gave me this godly soul and then you imprisoned it in a weak and fragile body, how painful is to live in it!” Michelangelo

The Rebellious Slave, along with The Dying Slave, dates back to the second project for Pope Giulio II’s sepolture (1513). Both of them should have been positioned at the bottom tier of the funeral monument, redesigned by Michelangelo several times, after he was enthrusted with it by Giulio II himself in 1505.

The sepolture’s final project (1542) didn’t include the two sculptures anymore: Michelangelo gave them as a gift to Roberto Strozzi who, during his exile in Lione, had them sent there. In 1632 cardinal Richelieu was given them, but after his death they were seized and flowed into the Louvre collection, where they are displayed.

The Rebellious Slave represents a standing, naked, male figure, hand binded behind his back, while he is writhing, with the intent of freeing himself.

The limbs twist in a contorted movement named “counterposed”. The right foot rests on a block of stone, the knee is bent and leftward turned, while the other leg is straight, the foot firm on the ground. The chest twists righward, stretching forward, as if yanking the laces that are restraining it, pressing on the bent leg. The left shoulder is lowered and stretched forward if compared to the right one, while the arm (the only one to be visible) is held back. The head turns to the left and it is slightly tilted back, gazing upward, as if asking for help. Thank to the shoulder and the knee stretched toward the bystander, the statue should have lend more room to the funeral monument.

Vasari identified the two Captivi, that have been renamed Slaves only since ‘800, as embodiments of the territories controlled by Giulio II, while Condivi writes about symbols of the Arts, imprisoned and dying after the pontiff demise. The Rebellious Slave could represent Sculpture or Architecture, but both theories are conjectures.

All of Michelangelo’s Slaves, other four of them are at Firenze (Florence) Accademy, with their sculptural tension, seem to describe the effort of human soul to free herself from flesh, longing to God, sole source of perfection.