Artibus et Historiae no. 56 (XXVIII)

2007, ISSN 0391-9064

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COSTANZA BARBIERI - "Chompare e amicho karissimo": A Portrait of Michelangelo by his Friend Sebastiano

Sebastiano del Piombo's reputation as a portrait painter was well established in the first half of the sixteenth century, as was testified by several sources and by his outstanding portraits as well. For this reason, it is at least surprising that he left no likeness of his best friend and associate, Michelangelo Buonarroti, to whom he was so much obliged. It is here proposed to identify a recently discovered portrayal of Michelangelo as a possible work of Sebastiano's hand, given the strong analogy between this portrait and that of Francesco Arsilli in the Pinacoteca Civica of Ancona, signed by the Venetian painter and presenting the same composition of the Michelangelo. The Florentine artist is represented while showing a book of drawings of anatomical studies, an attribute that identifies for the first time Michelangelo via disegno, a unique and convincing iconography that distinguishes this from other portraits of Michelangelo. Although no documents have yet been discovered to place this forgotten painting securely within Sebastiano's oeuvre, a path is suggested that starts from a reference in the collection of the Duke d'Orléans, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and continues to a seal on the back of the painting, identified as a custom stamp of the Reverenda Camera Apostolica in Rome. The portrait itself, however, though damaged, is an astonishing document of the two artists' friendship and of the mutual respect between the portraitist and the sitter, conveyed to the viewer by Michelangelo's intense and expressive gaze.

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