QI understand that in analyzing Michelangelo’s writings you discovered that he consciously and purposefully changed his handwriting when he moved from Florence to Rome. What prompted this research?
AWhen I joined the faculty at WVU, I wanted to have time to pursue a graduate degree. I settled on art with a concentration in Medieval and was extremely fortunate to find outstanding faculty in the art history division of the College of Creative Arts, including Professor Janet Snyder, who directed my graduate study, and Professor Kristina Olson. I enrolled in a seminar on Michelangelo taught by Bernie Schultz, a Renaissance art historian and former dean of the college. It was a fascinating class, and when one day he showed us an image of Michelangelo’s handwriting, I was intrigued to the point that I needed to know more. I eventually settled on doing my master’s thesis on “The Influence of Humanism on the Handwriting of Michelangelo Buonarroti.”
What other unusual things have you done in your career?
Several years back, I took a course in the Anglo-Saxon language from the former chair of the English Department, professor Pat Conner, and just thoroughly enjoyed it. He called me up after class one evening and told me that he had heard that the person teaching introductory Latin at WVU could not continue. He told me that if I were interested in teaching the introductory semesters of Classics 101 and 102 that I should contact Ángel Tuninetti in the World Languages Department. I met with him and he offered me the opportunity to take over this responsibility. Well, that was in 2008, and I’ve been teaching the first year of Latin every Tuesday and Thursday since. These are generally small classes, and my students enjoy and appreciate learning about the culture and the language.
In 2009 while recuperating from surgery I received an e-mail from an auction house in New York City asking me to consult on a letter that was thought to be written by Michelangelo and had been offered for auction. It turned out not to be authentic, but I was flattered to have been consulted because of my knowledge of his writing.
Conclusion from Tallaksen’s 2005 thesis:
“Making a radical change in one’s handwriting is extremely difficult. We have seen how fundamental the change was, both in learning new letter forms and discarding the ones he had been taught. Making such an alteration requires a conscious determination, which in turn entails commitment, perseverance and weeks and months of practice – practice not only to learn the new letter forms and the method of writing them, but also for the even more difficult task of unlearning the method one was originally taught. The ductus [direction, sequence and speed of the strokes] for many letters and their forms are so essentially different between the two scripts that one is obliged to conclude that there must have been a definite decision by Michelangelo to alter his handwriting.”
Law professor Atiba Ellis explains how voting rights laws surprisingly have something in common with Monty Python.Continue Reading
Bob Tallaksen teaches students to study human lungs and hearts via X-ray, CT scan and MRI. In his spare time, he studies other images, namely handwriting from the medieval period to the Renaissance.Continue Reading
Physicist Alan Bristow answers our pressing questions on the future of technology and tells why we shouldn’t be scared of physics.Continue Reading
Cheryl Ball says people panned the move of book publishing from monasteries just like they’re challenging digital media. Read how she’s making information more open to the public.Continue Reading
Economics professor Joshua Hall uses one of TV's most recognizable shows to teach economics. Who is this band of helpers? The Simpsons.Continue Reading
Michael McCawley has been in the public health trenches from the fiery oil fields of Kuwait to the aftermath of the Mount St. Helens eruption. Right now, he's got some ideas about how to avoid water crises like the one in Flint, Mich.Continue Reading