Hall of the Prisoners


Welcome to the intriguing Hall of the Prisoners at the Accademia Gallery in Florence. 

Step into a realm where unfinished sculptures seem alive, captivating visitors with their raw, unrefined beauty.

These sculptures, which show prisoners attempting to break free from their chains of slavery, are among Michelangelo’s most well-known creations.

The Hall of the Prisoners houses an exceptional collection of Michelangelo’s partially carved masterpieces, revealing the artistic process behind these magnificent works. 

As you wander through this hall, you’ll witness the sculptural genius frozen in time, granting a rare glimpse into the mind of one of history’s greatest artists. 

This hall culminates in the middle of the Tribune, where Michelangelo’s David is situated in the Accademia Gallery.

So, what are you waiting for? Prepare to be mesmerized by the allure of the unfinished and the profound creativity it embodies.

With the special Accademia Gallery priority access and guided tour, where history comes alive in the hands of experts, you can immerse yourself in some of art’s greatest treasures.

Michelangelo’s Prisoners

Four large sculptures showing male nudes, known as the Slaves, Prisoners, or Captives, inspired the Hall of the Prisoners’ name.

A lengthy and fascinating history surrounds these statues.

Michelangelo started them as part of a large project for Pope Julius II della Rovere’s tomb.

Commissioned in 1505, they predate the Sistine Chapel (1508).

Intending to be the most gorgeous tomb ever built during the Christian era, they created it with more than 40 figures.

The four Prisoners were sculpted for the lower-level pillars of the tomb and were meant to be placed in the opulent Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.

However, the pope ordered Michelangelo to halt the development the following year due to monetary limitations midway through their creation.

Eventually, in 1534 the proposal was altered so that prisoners were no longer a part of the tomb, and as a result, the statues remained in Florence.

Four prisoners were discovered in the artist’s workshop after his passing, and his nephew Leonardo Buonarroti offered them to Duke Cosimo I Medici.

They ultimately found their way to Gallerie dell’Accademia in Florence and formed the Michelangelo prisoners – Hall of Prisoners.

Scholars named these four slaves as:

  • The Awakening Slave
  • The Young Slave
  • The Bearded Slave
  • The Atlas (or Bound)

The incomplete Michelangelo prisoner statues provide insight into his method and conception of carving. 

According to Michelangelo, the sculptor is ‘a tool of God’ who reveals the potent forms already in the marble rather than making them.

Michelangelo believed he merely had one thing to do, remove the extra material to show the masterpiece underneath.

Interpretation of the Prisoners

Intellectuals have made numerous interpretations of these artworks.

In various degrees of completion, the figures reveal the immense power of the imaginative concept.

The figures are strong and muscular but also tense and strained, as though they are trying to escape their restraints.

As a metaphor, in their entirety, the Prisoners are seen as a bold and stirring portrayal of the human struggle for liberation and enlightenment.

It is also sometimes asserted that Michelangelo purposefully left them unfinished to symbolize the ongoing struggle of people to break free from their material enslavement.

Their interpretation is open to analysis.

Book your general entrance ticket to the Accademia Gallery, and after viewing the sculptures in the Hall of Prisoners, make your conclusion.

Paintings on the Walls

Other artists behind the artworks in the Hall of Prisoners are Granacci, Andrea del Sarto,  Fra’ Bartolomeo, Andrea del Sarto, Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio and Pontormo.

Their paintings were exhibited next to the Hall of the Prisoners to demonstrate their comradery and mutual influence.

These are a few you should take some time to look at closely:

  • Venus and Cupid (1533) by Jacopo Carrucci (Pontormo)
  • The Prophet Isaiah and The Prophet Job by Fra’ Bartolomeo
  • Christ as the Man of Sorrows by Andrea del Sarto

Ideal head (1560-1570) by Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio

Featured Image: GalleriAaccademiafirenze.it

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