In this etching on the Second Floor, two expressionless women walk past a series of Michelangelo drawings. What’s going on?
Cunningly placed in a part of the Library that relates to the movement it depicts, David Hockney’s etching Homage to Michelangelo (1975) shows two women in transit.
If we stop in our own path – most likely to or from one of the Reading Rooms on the Second Floor – and peer in close, we encounter the following words: ‘In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo’.
Rather than talking of Michelangelo however, the women are walking by a series of mural renderings of Michelangelo’s drawings.
What’s interesting about the two women is that they seem to mirror one another, both dressed in drab clothes and with no apparent facial expressions. Their eyes are blotted out and they don’t seem to be paying attention to Michelangelo’s drawings.
The words in the etching describing the women who ‘come and go’ were borrowed from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a poem by T S Eliot. In Eliot’s poem, the line, repeated twice, serves to critique the monotony and repetition of social convention.
The references etched into this work seem well suited for engaging with the coming and going of self-absorbed Readers in the British Library corridors.
What do you think the artwork is trying to say to them?
History of the artwork
The etching forms part of the portfolio Omaggio a Michelangelo, published in 1975 on the occasion of Michelangelo's 500th birthday, alongside works by other artists like Eduardo Paolozzi, Henry Moore and André Masson.
It is likely Hockney made the work after visiting the British Museum’s retrospective exhibition Michelangelo Drawings (7 February–27 April 1975).
Although Hockney is mainly known as a painter, his early etchings date from his time as a student at the Royal College of Art. In 1973 he began collaborating with printmaker Aldo Crommelynck, who was best known for his working relationship with Picasso. Homage to Michelangelo was printed in an edition of 200 in Crommelynck’s studio.
Contributed by Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World and Traditional Music
‘Homage to Michelangelo’ (shelfmark BLWA 119) by David Hockney was donated to the British Library in 2009 by Klaus Anschel in memory of his wife Gertie.