Run a Google image search for Norman Rockwell's painting of Rosie the
Riveter. Now run one for Michelangelo's fresco of Isaiah from the ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel. The parallel is obvious and intentional. I suppose
Rockwell first thought of Michelangelo's Cumaean Sibyl from the Sistine, since
he had a woman with hypertrophic muscles in mind (Rosie is certainly better
developed than Isaiah!). But the Sibyl is ugly, and probably older than Rosie
ought to be, and her pose is not really conducive to Rockwell's purpose--for
the Sibyl is all about nervous tension turned inward. If Rosie imitated her
pose, it would look like she were losing, not winning, the war.
But having thought of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rockwell easily and effortlessly
adapted Isaiah's mannered pose into Rosie's distraction from her
sandwich. Isaiah's book of prophecy becomes Rosie's lunch pail, but the idea
is still there in Hitler's 'prophetic' book (Mein Kampf) under
her feet. He added a halo to Rosie just to make sure we get it. The absurd goggles,
riveter's mask, and masculine clothing offer a touch of humor (and express Rosie's
having stepped into a traditionally masculine role under the pressure of wartime).
The Sistine Chapel puts us squarely in the world of Roman
Catholicism, and Catholics will quickly see the symbolism of her foot coming
down precisely on the snake of her pneumatic hose (Mary crushing the serpent).
That the hose does not actually run beneath her foot but behind her seat is
irrelevant--in the two-dimensional plane of the painting, and to our eye, it
is running under her feet. Not convinced about the snake metaphor? Why has Rockwell
painted the hose under full pressure, if not to have it twist the way he wants
into a symbolic snake? Surely in real life a rivet gun would be powered down
during lunchbreak and the hose would hang limply.
In this, perhaps Rockwell
was showing off his knowledge of Michelangelo in another way, as well. If you
look closely at his Pietà (of 1499), you'll see that the veins
in the dead Christ's arms are bulging (one arm being specifically exposed for our inspection so we can see this)--but dead people's veins
don't do that, because there is no blood pressure. Michelangelo knows this,
of course, but he has the purpose of signalling the gathering force of the soon-to-resurrect
Here are some rough-and-ready images I found (with Lometa's help--thanks!)
An alternative Rosie (not the one under discussion): www.archives.gov/about_us/calendar_of_events/images/rosie_the_riveter.gif
I am currently getting both pictures side by side in a Google image search run for "Michelangelo Isaiah". Follow the link to www.newberkshire.com.