Academics Find Sketch of Michelangelo in the “Divine Comedy”

It depicts the artist at work

Michelangelo's David
"David" might be Michelangelo's best-known work.
Jörg Bittner Unna, CC BY-SA 4.0

At what point does a drawing in the margins of a book go from unwanted annoyance to historically notable ephemera? A distance of a few centuries probably helps. While researching his forthcoming book The Artist’s Studio: A Cultural History, art critic and historian James Hall saw something unexpected on the side of one page of a 15th century edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy: a sketch of a sculptor hard at work.

As Gareth Harris notes in an article for The Art Newspaper, Hall soon reached an inescapable conclusion: the artist depicted in the sketch was none other than Michelangelo.

Hall told Harris that he first saw the drawing as part of a lecture given by Warburg Institute in London director Bill Sherman. “After several months,” Hall said, “I suddenly thought that a lot of the pieces of the jigsaw seem to fit Michelangelo.”

What makes the sketch especially interesting is that it isn’t simply the product of an idle impulse. Instead, Hall contends, the sketch “is telling an extremely interesting story, illustrating a simile in Dante.” Specifically, the sculptor in the sketch is choosing to work on a more ambitious piece — a match for the text, where Dante opts for a more challenging route through Hell.

The identity of the artist who sketched Michelangelo remains unknown — but they’ve left their mark on history. (In this case, literally.)

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