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Self-Portraits - Did Michelangelo Ever Paint a One? The Answer Is Yes and No

April 09, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 167

The greatest artist the world has yet produced: Michelangelo.

Born 23 years after Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti lived 22 years longer. Unlike Leonardo, he confined his creative energies to the Fine Arts of sculpture, architecture, painting and poetry. In an unprecedented act of acknowledgement, a biography of Michelangelo was published in his own lifetime. It was written by Georgio Vasari, who heard fellow artists call Michelangelo 'the divine one' because of the awe-inspiring beauty and grand scale of the works he produced.

In sculpture, Michelangelo surpassed even the masters of ancient Greece. The Italian master added his impassioned sense of humanity's spiritual essence to the unrivalled skill and physical strength with which he turned stone into raw emotion. Aged just 22, he was commissioned to sculpt a Pieta, the subject which shows Mary holding the corpse of her crucified son, finishing it in two years.

A year later, the sculptor was back in Florence, where the city's wealthy wool merchants asked him to complete a work left unfinished by another master. The project was intended as a symbol of the city's political autonomy. A block of Carrara marble weighing about eight tons and bearing imprints of an earlier design, posed many tricky problems. Not least was how to transport the finished piece to the spot intended for its display.

Bringing to bear all his powers of muscle strength, engineering knowledge, artistic innovation and emotional intelligence, Michelangelo answered everything with a masterpiece that defined him, then and forever, as the sculptor without peer. We know it as the 'David,' a portrait of the second Jewish king, in the fateful moment before he loads his sling with the stone that felled Goliath.

At 33, Michelangelo was in his physical and professional prime when he returned to Rome. The new Pope appointed him to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with images of the Apostles, on a star-filled sky. Michelangelo conceived a far grander composition, telling the whole of the Bible story with some 300 figures in scenes such as the Creation of Adam, the painting easily recognised by everyone. Dismissing all assistance, the sculptor who considered painting a secondary art, finished this monumental work in only four years.

500 years on, the art treasures of St Peter's attract millions of tourists from around the globe. Some, like me, will stretch out on the floor of the Sistine Chapel, heedless of dust raised by shuffling shoes and boots all around, deaf to the low roar of whispered exclamations above, blind to all but the majesty of imagination spread across the ceiling and carried down one wall of a small room in the Vatican.

In one panel of the painted glory of the Sistine ceiling Michelangelo placed his only known self-portrait. Yet it was as a model that the master made this image of himself, shown as a severed head. The head belonged on the body of an ancient warrior, Holofernes. General of an Assyrian army poised to destroy a Jewish city, he was decapitated by the hero Judith, before he could order the attack.

As an identifying feature, the nose of this 'Holofernes' is a dead give-away. Michelangelo's own face was disfigured by having his nose broken by a fellow apprentice when he was a teenager.

The most recognised image of Michelangelo is not a self-portrait but a painting of him, in old age. It was done by Jacopino del Conte.

Dorothy Gauvin's oil paintings have been reproduced as high-quality, affordable, limited edition art prints. Four prints comprise the Waltzing Matilda series. Five prints comprise the Great Australian Horsemen series. See them at get a free mini E-course in How to Buy Art Prints at

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