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Journal > Volumes > 35 (2004) / 2 (Summer)
Michelangelo’s Signature
Aileen June Wang
Rutgers University

Michelangelo signed only one work with his name, the Pietà in Saint Peter’s Basilica. As his first public commission in Rome, the sculpture gave the young artist an opportunity to establish his reputation and public image. The band across the Virgin’s chest serves no other function than to hold Michelangelo’s signature, which was not added as an afterthought as Vasari claimed in his 1568 biography of the artist. Although Michelangelo had carefully planned his inscription, its style of execution suggests letters that are spontaneously written, not carved. This effect calls attention to the artist’s manual presence. Michelangelo also revived the ancient Greek use of the imperfect verb tense in his signature; Pliny the Elder had recalled that Apelles and Polyclitus used it. The separation of Michelangelo’s name into two words, Michael Angelus, emphasizes his association with his namesake, Michael the Archangel, and introduces the image of the artist as a divinely inspired creator, who conveys God’s messages and ideas as angels do.

Pages: 447 - 473