Michelangelo’s Hands in The Battle of Cascina (1504)

In a recent short paper entitled The Mystery of Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina I argued that the hands of a man who seems to be drowning in the water are the hands of the artist. 

As others have pointed out the print's narrative is inconsistent because the man leaning down into the water to offer help on the left is nowhere near the hands asking for it. In my reading, explained elsewhere, we are inside Michelangelo's mind where the hands in the river are the hands of the artist "creating" the disconnected figure studies above, as if they were an inversion of the hands of God.

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Captions for image(s) above:

After Michelangelo, Battle of Cascina (1504)

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When Marcantonio Raimondi later engraved three of Michelangelo's figures onto a different background, he subtly "corrected" the inconsistency by adding just a tiny glimpse of two fingers in the water directly beneath those stretching down to help.

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Marcantonio Raimondi after Michelangelo, The Climbers (1510)

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The two fingers can only be seen clearly in a major enlargement, as at left, so their meaning can only have been intended for other artists and those who studied prints in great detail.1

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Raimondi's The Climbers (1510)

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Nevertheless, years later The Battle of Cascina was engraved again by a different artist who, recognizing the significance of the hands, brought them up the side of the riverbank on either side of a tablet. The inscription is too small to read in available reproductions but it seems to credit Michelangelo. Whether accurate or not, such tablets were widely recognized as sites of authorship in prints so that its placement between the two hands in the water clearly implies that the two hands are the artist's. 

See conclusion below

Captions for image(s) above:

Agostino Veneziano after Michelangelo, Five Soldiers (1524)

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Thus, whether or not we are looking at a scene inside Michelangelo's mind, all previous interpretations still need rethinking because the only battle being fought on this riverbank is Michelangelo's own battle to create the art.

See also Mystery in Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina.

Notes:

1. In a recent book Bernardine Barnes discusses Michelangelo's Battle of Cascina and its various reproductions at length, including the two above, but makes no mention of the hands or the presence of those curious fingertips. Michelangelo in Print: Reproductions as Response in the Sixteenth Century (Surrey, UK: Ashgate) 2010, pp.1-27

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