Michelangelo’s Hall of Prisoners in Accademia Gallery!

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The Hall of Prisoners, named after the unique sculptures of prisoners breaking out of their marble cages, is one of the most popular areas of the Accademia Gallery. 

The corridor is also lined with paintings by some famous Renaissance artists, like Ghirlandaio, Pontormo, and Fra Bartolomeo!

Visitors planning to explore this part of the Accademia Gallery must know all about its unique artworks to plan the best experience.

Read further to discover the stories behind the prisoner sculptures by Michelangelo and what makes the room so unique! 

Where is the Hall of Prisoners?

The Hall of Prisoners is very close to the exit area of the Museum, leading to the famous Tribune Hall.

You can quickly get here by taking a left from the entrance and entering the first door on the right side.

The entrance to the Hall is just next to the washroom area.

This area was previously used to display 19th-century paintings but is now the room showing the famous prisoner statues. 

Check out our Accademia Gallery Map article to navigate the museum and find the room easily! 

The Four Prisoner Sculptures

The Prisoners are a collection of four half-naked and incomplete statues lining the hall of the Prisoners.

Scholars named them Atlas, the Awakening Prisoner, the Bearded Prisoner, and the Young Prisoner based on their positions.

Let’s look at each prisoner sculpture in detail! 

Atlas

The Atlas Prisoner stands at a height of almost 3 meters, standing in the pose of a man carrying a heavy weight on his shoulders.

The captive gets his name from the Greek mythological story of the Titan Atlas, which Zeus forces to carry the world and heavens on his back.

You can barely see the feet of this sculpture, who only has his torso and hands exposed, with no face.

Historians can tell that Michelangelo used a bow drill, as you can see indents made by it on Atlas’s back.

Michelangelo also used a chisel and rasp to carve out this masterpiece.

Like all other sculptures, Atlas appears to be breaking out from the marble. 

The Awakening Prisoner

The Awakening Prisoner stands at a height of around 3 meters, stretching like he has woken up from a deep sleep.

He is also depicted in a way that makes him look like he is breaking away from chains that hold him back to a wall.

Like Atlas, the awakening man also has an incomplete face, legs, and hands.

You can only see a muscular torso breaking away from the marble.   

The Bearded Prisoner

The Bearded captive is the only structure in the hall with a complete body structure!

He gets his name because of this thick beard.

One of his arms is raised in the air, and the other falls to the ground, exposing his torso.

His legs are bent, and he holds a band of cloth in his left hand, trying to free himself from the marble surrounding him. 

You can see Michelangelo’s brilliance when considering human anatomy; every muscle is carved perfectly!

If you look closely, a minor fracture is visible on this statue’s hip, whose cause remains unknown. 

The Young Prisoner

The Young Captive is also one of the complete pieces in the collection, showing a young man trying to break free of his stone chains.

He stands slightly bent, indicating a heavy weight on his back, and his left hand is raised to cover his face. 

Visitors can also see a wax imitation of this sculpture by Michelangelo in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum! 

You can see similar statues of the Dying and Rebellious Prisoners, which were the first sculptures crafted in 1513, on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris. 

Philosophers believe that Michelangelo was trying to show the personal struggles he was going through.

Others see the figures as a metaphor for humanity’s desire for freedom.

The marble walls symbolize a breakaway from the material things the world has imposed on people today.

Visitors who want to know more should take the Accademia Gallery Guided Tour to discover more theories on these unfinished sculptures. 

The Other Paintings 

The Hall has six paintings standing between the captive sculptures, enhancing the beauty of the walls.

Three beautiful paintings have religious significance, while the other three are based on mythological and fictional characters.

Michelangelo’s works inspire most of these paintings, so they are placed in this hall!

Venus and Cupid

Venus and Cupid is one of the most famous paintings in the Accademia Gallery, painted between 1532 and 1533 by Pontormo.

The artist is also known as Jacopo Carcucci, who used a lost sketch of Michelangelo to compose this painting.

The painting focuses on love as a philosophy, as Venus, the goddess of celestial love, is not moved by Cupid’s kiss.

Cupid, symbolizing earthly love, is backgrounded by flowers, masks, and other items that show the temporary nature of this love.

Michelangelo was known for using such themes in his Renaissance poetry as well!

Christ in Mercy Painting

Andrea del Sarto painted Christ in Mercy in 1525, showing Jesus sitting in a grotto area.

He is surrounded by the weapons used in his passion before his death and crucifixion.

The painting is based on the Man of Sorrows theme popularly painted in the 15th century. 

It is considered to be a Mannerist painting. 

The Prophets Job and Isiah

Fra Bartolomeo took inspiration from the Michelangelo Sistine Chapel paintings to paint the portraits of Prophets Job and Isiah.

The paintings use bright reds, blues, and yellow colors, which catch the eye of all visitors as soon as they enter the hall. 

Before arriving at the Accademia Gallery, the prophets were displayed in Florence’s Basilica of Santissima Annunziata. 

The Ideal Head Paintings

Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio’s Idead Head paintings depict ancient warrior women from the noble family.

Their head is covered with an armored helmet, and you can see pearls and other jewelry peeking out from under.

One of these Ideal Head paintings is based on the Queen Zenobia, painted in white and pink robes on a green background. 

Michelangelo’s Bust

Michelangelo’s Prisoners
Image: Galleriaaccademiafirenze.it

On the right side of the entrance, you will see a perfectly crafted bronze bust of Michelangelo, carved by sculptor Daniele da Volterra.

He was hired to cover up the inappropriate parts of the Last Judgment painting in the Sistine Chapel with loincloths. 

The bust is an elderly portrait of Michelangelo, as Daniele wanted to capture his friend’s life for the world to see. 

Best Time to Visit the Gallery of Prisoners 

Since the Hall of Prisoners is the second most crowded gallery, we recommend visiting it before 9 a.m.

You can also plan a visit in the afternoon when the crowd is less, as tourists leave to grab a meal. 

The gallery is also less crowded in the evening time after 4 pm. 

Check out our Accademia Gallery Opening Hours article to know more about the timings. 

History of the Michelangelo Hall of Prisoners

The major attraction of the hall is the four massive half-formed marble sculptures lining the walls. 

These sculptures showcase prisoners or captives, which were crafted initially for Pope Julius II’s tomb in 1505.

The tomb planned by the Pope contained almost 40 figures, and these four sculptures would act as the base to hold up a statue of Hermes.

The Pope ordered Michelangelo to stop working on this planned masterpiece in 1506 because of money shortages since St Peter’s Basilica was under construction. 

Before the plan was called off, the prisoners were removed from the design of the massive tomb sculpture. 

Michelangelo also crafted a sculpture of Moses for the tomb, which now stands in St Peter’s Church in Vincoli. 

After Michelangelo’s death, Duke Cosimo I Medici received the statues and gave them away to be placed in the Boboli Gardens.

Before arriving in the Hall of Prisoners, they stood in a natural Grotto till 1906, which had stalactites, shells, and other decorations.

The four statues finally arrived in the gallery in 1909!

After these statues were welcomed, many new paintings made by artists whom Michelangelo influenced were added as wall decorations in 2006.

FAQs on Hall of Prisoners

1. Do I need tickets to see the Hall of Prisoners?

2. What is the theme of the bound prisoners?

3. What is the best time to explore the Hall of Prisoners?

4. Which is the most famous painting in the Gallery of Prisoners?

5. Where were the prisoners before the statues were moved to the Accademia Gallery?

6. Why did Michelangelo craft the incomplete Prisoner statues?

7. Who crafted Michelangelo’s Bust in the Prisoner’s Hall? 

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Featured Image: GalleriAaccademiafirenze.it

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