Michelangelo's Kiss

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1880 December 18
Rhyme: abbaabbacddcee
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 253-254

◦ Baum, ed., House of Life 210-211


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets.

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet follows directly on the sonnet immediately preceding it (“The Sun's Shame II”) in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets version of “The House of Life” sequence. Michelangelo is DGR's exemplary “true chief of men, bowed down with stress” imagined in that sonnet's first line.

This sonnet pivots on the text, referenced in line 4, from Michelangelo's early biographer Ascanio Condivi, the “one true heart” who narrated the anecdote about Michelangelo and the pious Vittoria Colonna, the Marchioness of Pescara (d. 1547), for whom Michelangelo made some of his most famous sculptures (see Condivi, Vita, 61 .

Readers since WMR have understood the pronouns “her. . .her” in lines 12-13 to reference “the Soul” (line 10). But because the pronoun “her” (line 10) references “Art” (line 9), the reference in lines 12-13 is by no means clear. The matter is especially important because of the distinction drawn at the end between “her. . .And. . .thee”. However we read the pronouns in 12-13, the final line makes a startling dichotomy between Michelangelo and his Soul, as if his artist's life had divorced the two. This situation clearly forecasts what DGR will shortly imagine in the sonnet “He and I”.

Textual History: Composition

The sonnet was written 18 December 1880 specifically for inclusion in the coming Ballads and Sonnets volume (see DGR's letter to Frederick Shields of 18 December 1880, Fredeman, Correspondence, 80.389 ). It was the last sonnet writen for the sonnet sequence. Two manuscripts survive: a corrected copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence and a fair copy at Yale.

Printing History

First published in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets, collected thereafter.


In a letter to William Michael Rossetti dated 16 February 1873, DGR proposes painting Michelangelo's Kiss as a companion piece to Dante's Dream. The proposed picture was never executed (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 73. 52 ).


From the early 1870s DGR had in mind a plan to translate all of Michelangelo's sonnets. He never began it. This sonnet and “For the Holy Family, by Michelangelo” seem derivative of that original project.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 4-1881.raw.xml