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Restoration of 'Moses' gets online audience

Michelangelo carved the Renaissance masterpiece, "Moses," between 1514 and 1516  

November 23, 2000
Web posted at: 8:27 a.m. EST (1327 GMT)

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Perhaps the only thing more boring than watching paint dry is watching transparent cleaning fluid doing the same.

At first glance, therefore,, a new Italian Web site allowing users to log on 24 hours a day to watch cleaners remove grime from a large piece of marble is not something to immediately stir the imagination.

When you realize that the piece of marble is in fact Michelangelo's "Moses," however, one of the great masterpieces of Renaissance art, the whole thing becomes rather more interesting.

In January, a nine-month restoration program is being launched to clean and conserve the statue, which forms part of the tomb of Pope Julius II (1443-1513) in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, near Rome's Colosseum.

The 740-million-lire project ($322,263), which is being funded by the Italian lottery company Lottomatica and carried out by Antonio Forcellino, one of Italy's foremost restorers, will seek to relieve the statue of almost five centuries of dirt, as well as moving it forward slightly to allow experts to examine its back.

Special transparent scaffolding will be used so visitors to San Pietro will still be able to view the statue, while a live video link will allow Web users worldwide to chart the progress of the work from the comfort of their own homes. Europe
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"We don't just want to clean and restore the monument," says Gabriella Mostovicz of Lottomatica, "We want to make it even more well known than it already is.

"People will be able to follow the whole process of restoration minute by minute and day by day. It's a way of letting them feel a part of it."

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) created his "Moses" between 1514-1516.

Carved from Carrara marble, it was originally intended to be just one of some 40 statues adorning the tomb of his patron, Pope Julius II.

Although he worked on the tomb for the best part of four decades, however, political upheavals and commissions for other works meant that he only ever completed three of the statues: "Moses" and, to either side of it, "Leah" and "Rachel."

"Although the tomb you see now is a very reduced version of what was originally planned," says John Larson, Britain's leading conservator, "'Moses' is still one of the world's great pieces of art.

"It's a very innovative sculpture, not just in its size, which was unusual for that period, but also in the rendering of the prophet himself. It's a very characterful study. The expression on his face is very strong and powerful."

The statue is already a major tourist attraction, with up to 4,000 people visiting it daily (part of its spectacular beard has been worn away by centuries of touching by Jewish pilgrims).

Musical score

With "The Digital Michelangelo Project, however, it looks set to become even more famous.

As well as the Web site, a whole series of cultural events have been planned around the restoration, including books, videos, lectures and symposiums.

English composer Michael Nyman is in the process of creating a 20-minute musical score to accompany the unveiling of the restored statue, while photographer Helmut Newton, best known for his sexually charged fashion work, has been commissioned to produce a series of photographs of the newly cleaned monument.

The total cost of these activities is estimated to be about 1 billion lire ($435,327).

"The idea is to give transparence to the work," explains Mostovicz. "To allow people to see what we are doing and why and how."

Although some in the art world are dismissive of the Internet idea -- a spokeswoman from British auction house Sotheby's said most art experts wouldn't even know what to do with a computer -- others have greeted it with enthusiasm.

"I think it is wonderful that the public have access to these sort of resources," says Larson. "It is, after all, the public who actually own these objects. Wherever they are, they belong to the world at large."

The Web site is currently in Italian only. An English-language version is under construction. A live video of the restoration program will come online toward the end of January.

Muslim cleric claims Moses' tomb is in India
July 27, 1997
Poor Argentine family may have Michelangelo statue
March 15, 1997

Michelangelo Web sites
The Digital Michelangelo Project
Lottomatica (in Italian)

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