Possible Michelangelo Self-Portrait Found
March 22, 2005 Florence.
By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
The Sculpture of Michelangelo
A unique bas-relief, which might be the first known self-portrait of Michelangelo, has emerged from a private collection, art historians announced in Florence this week.
The sculpture, a white marble round work attached to a flat piece of marble, with a diameter of 14 inches depicting a bearded man, was lent by a noble Tuscan family to the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci for a study on the relationship between Michelangelo and Leonardo.
"The work speaks for itself: it is a very high-quality sculpture which depicts Michelangelo. The skilled chiselling on the back makes us think it might be a self portrait," Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Leonardo da Vinci Museo Ideale, told Discovery News.
The bas-relief would have been sculpted around 1545, when 70-year-old Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) had already completed masterpieces such as the David, the Pieta in the Basilica of St. Peter, the Medici chapels in Florence and the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.
Although there are no examples of low reliefs from his later phase, Michelangelo did work on bas-reliefs when he was young. Indeed, he produced at least two relief sculptures, the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs, by the time he was 16 years old.
"I first saw the portrait about seven or eight years ago, when the owner brought it to my house in Tuscany. To my eyes then and to my eyes now it is surely a portrait of Michelangelo from the mid-sixteenth century, which itself is very rare, and it is a very fine object," James Beck, professor of art history at Columbia University and the author of "The Three Worlds of Michelangelo," told Discovery News.
"It is the only portrait of Michelangelo in marble and in relief that I am aware of from his lifetime."
According to Beck, the sculpture could also be the work of Niccolo Tribolo or Pierino da Vinci, the nephew of Leonardo who died at only 23.
"Pierino was an extraordinary sculptor. Enough to say that 19th century art historians often attributed his works to Michelangelo. Whoever the author, this marble portrait is very precious as it adds new knowledge to the image we have of Michelangelo," Vezzosi said.
The bas-relief is consistent with known portraits of the Renaissance master, such as paintings by Giuliano Bugiardini and Jacopino del Conte, kept at the Casa Buonarroti museum in Florence, and bronzes by Daniele da Volterra, on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.
Michelangelo left no documented self portraits. Art historians have speculated that he painted his own image in the flayed skin of St. Bartholomew in the Last Judgement, and in the head of Nicodemus in the Florentine Pieta.
"This could be the first known self portrait of Michelangelo. But we are cautious, as more studies are needed," Vezzosi said.
The marble work will be the centrepiece of an exhibition on the image of Michelangelo in the coming months.