Self-portraits that were concealed in other paintings were a common practice among historical painters. Although earlier artists also engaged in this practice, it became prevalent during the Renaissance, a time that valued individual creativity. Maybe some of these covert self-portraits prefigured the fore-edge paintings that appeared in the 1700s.
There were instances where the artist was often visible to the viewer even though they weren’t the center of attention. But Michelangelo saw things differently in this case. Michelangelo was never regarded as attractive because of his fractured nose that wasn’t properly healed, his height, and his propensity to not give a damn about his appearance.
The extraordinary artist’s reputation for being ugly may have contributed to his unwillingness to paint or create a self-portrait. Though, this never stopped him from making beautiful things. Michelangelo never painted a known self-portrait, but he occasionally included himself in his pieces, and other painters of the time thought he made a good subject. The two Michelangelo works shown below are thought to have a self-portrait of the artist among the subjects.
The Crucifixion of Saint Peter
Art historians have long assumed that Michelangelo inked himself into The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. Still, it wasn’t until 2009 that they realized he may have also included a self-portrait in Crucifixion of Saint Peter. One of the most famous works by Michelangelo was found while the artwork, “a fresco in the Vatican’s Pauline Chapel,” was restored.
The person wearing a blue turban and on a horse in the painting’s upper left corner is purportedly Michelangelo. Before the restoration, historians were unsure of the identity of the figure. However, as they continued to work on the portrait, which the artist completed in 1550, restorers speculated that it might be Michelangelo. They then confirmed their theory by comparing the artist’s likeness to portraits of the artist by other artists.
The Last Judgment
Michelangelo decided to return to the chapel to start work on “The Last Judgment” in 1536, 24 years before the Sistine Chapel ceiling was finished. It was heavily criticized for its barbarity and nudity, which were especially shocking in its location behind the altar. In addition, it was noticeably distinct in style from other earlier works.
St. Bartholomew, who we can see displaying his flayed skin, is one of the dead souls rising to face God’s wrath in the painting. The closest approximation we have to a self-portrait of the painter in paint is the skin, representing Michelangelo himself.
According to legend, Michelangelo painted his face onto the skin that St. Bartholomew was holding in The Last Judgment, which was painted on the wall above the altar inside the Sistine Chapel between 1536 and 1541. God’s ultimate judgment of every person on earth and the Second Coming of Christ is called the Last Judgment in Christianity. So maybe the artist imagined that he would become something better after death.
Michelangelo disliked creating self-portraits of him, but this didn’t stop the other artists from creating their interpretations of him. So, as we try to learn about the artist Michelangelo, here is a selection of portraits and other works of art that show Michelangelo Buonarroti as he was known to people in his day and as later artists imagined him to be.
Sistine Chapel Ceiling: The Persian Sibyl – Michelangelo
Daniele da Volterra’s Portrait
A gifted artist, Daniele da Volterra studied under Michelangelo in Rome. He was greatly influenced by the well-known artist and became close friends with him. Pope Paul IV tasked Daniele with adding draperies to cover the nakedness of the projections in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel after the death of his mentor. He earned the moniker “The Breeches Maker” or “il Braghetone” as a result.
Heraclitus by Michelangelo
The School of Athens, a massive painting by Raphael that features famous classical philosophers, mathematicians, and scholars, was finished in 1511. In it, Plato looks remarkably like Leonardo da Vinci, and Euclid resembles the Italian architect Bramante.
According to one legend, Bramante snuck Raphael into the Sistine Chapel with a key so he could view Michelangelo’s work. Raphael was so inspired that he threw in a last-minute addition of a Heraclitus statue painted to resemble Michelangelo to The School of Athens.
Michelangelo’s Portrait from the Hundred Greatest Men
This portrait is strikingly reminiscent of a piece by Jacopino del Conte from the 16th century that was once thought to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo. It is taken from The Hundred Greatest Men, released in 1885 by D. Appleton & Company.
Michelangelo as Nicodemus
Two Pietàs were among the final works on which Michelangelo concentrated. One of them is merely two shadowy figures leaning against each other. The other, referred to as the Florentine Pietà, was nearly finished when the artist gave up on it out of frustration. Fortunately, he managed to leave some of it intact.
Presumed to be either Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemous, the character leaning over Mary and her grieving son was created in Michelangelo’s likeness.
Ceiling Of The Sistine Chapel. Sybils Erithraea – Michelangelo
The Death Mask by Michelangelo
A mask of Michelangelo’s face was created after his passing. His close associate Daniele da Volterra made this Michelangelo work, using the death mask as inspiration. The sculpture is now housed in Milan.
One of the three Renaissance “giants,” Michelangelo contributed significantly to the Humanist revolution. His paintings and sculptures focused on humanity’s relationship to the non-secular and divine reality. Moreover, he was an expert at representing the human body in such technical detail that marble appeared to be transformed into bone and flesh.
Humility and awe were inspired by his mastery of human expression and emotion. His works were the first to depict a psychological perspective and physical realism with such intensity. From Raphael in his day to the final great sculptor to continue his tradition of realism, Rodin, Michelangelo significantly influenced other artists.