Rebellious Soul: The Rebellious Slave

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Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side

Curated by Leo Yuan

Michelangelo, The Rebellious Slave, 1513

Appearing in a distorting position, with his shoulder pushing down against the chest and legs half kneeling, the figure expresses a determined resolution of breaking free. He demonstrates the very definition of power and physical strength, yet still unable to free himself from bondage. One can't help but wonder what he is struggling against, this prisoner of mysterious constraint. 

Of course there is the physical constraint, for he is called a slave. But there is something more to it. Michelangelo placed the slave's body in a manner of an ascending spiral, which creates a sense of dynamic movement. The figure's head remains upward, for there is the direction of heaven. Adding this to the equation, his cause becomes a spiritual one. Perhaps it's the hope of reunion with God and liberating from the earthly troubles. Or, it's possibly Michelangelo's own wish, that he could attain an aesthetic, as well as a political freedom, manifested in his art. In either way, the Rebellious Slave communicates a strong feeling of discontent, and suggests that one should fight against such grievance, and search for solutions from the external world at all cost. It means revolt, perhaps death, but as long as something changes. In a sense, "Give me liberty, or give me death."

When I was lucky enough to see this piece in Louvre, I discovered that only couple steps away, stands another Michelangelo's work from his series of slave; one that's more smooth, handsome, and tranquil, but nevertheless, intrigues viewers with deep philosophical intentions.

Curator's note: Michelangelo took on the project of the tomb for Pope Julius II in 1505, and carved a series of sculptures on the theme of slave. Because of the change of the plan after Pope's death, these sculptures were no longer included. Michelangelo donated them to Roberto Strozzi, who later brought them to France. Two pieces are present in the collection, serving to demonstrate two different, yet equally symbolic aspects of Michelangelo's philosophy.


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