Is That a Secret Michelangelo Selfie at the Sistine Chapel? | Kanebridge News
Share Button

Is That a Secret Michelangelo Selfie at the Sistine Chapel?

A new theory suggests that the Renaissance master modelled his iconic image of God after himself

Thu, Apr 20, 2023 9:04amGrey Clock 4 min

Michelangelo may have secretly painted himself onto the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, portraying himself as God with arm outstretched to spark life in a lounging Adam.

The theory, if true, underscores Michelangelo’s outsize ego, or at least his cheeky sense of humour. The hunch, which is gaining traction among Italian Renaissance scholars, also places the artist’s self-portrait squarely at the center of one of the most famous images in Western art.

“Michelangelo saw himself as the Messiah of art, so it makes sense,” said Adriano Marinazzo, a curator of special projects at Virginia’s Muscarelle Museum of Art at The College of William & Mary who published the theory last December in the peer-reviewed Italian art journal Critica d’Arte.

Although the artist painted more than 300 biblical characters across 5,000 square feet of ceiling, the central action in Michelangelo’s masterpiece is “The Creation of Adam.” The section shows an elderly, bearded God twisting beneath a floating cloak so that the fingertips on his right hand nearly reach a lackadaisical Adam, who represents mankind.

Mr. Marinazzo, who has a record of Michelangelo-related discoveries, said he made the connection after studying a sheet of paper containing a sonnet Michelangelo wrote to his friend Giovanni da Pistoia between 1509 and 1511. In the sonnet, Michelangelo complains about the physical toll the job has taken on his health.

“My brush, above me all the time, dribbles the paint so my face makes a fine floor for droppings,” the artist wrote.

In the sonnet’s margins, the artist also drew a man, presumably himself, standing with legs slightly crossed while painting a ghoulish face on the ceiling with his right arm outstretched.

Scholars have long focused on how the poem now held in Florence’s Buonarroti Archive proves Michelangelo’s ornery attitude about the papal commission. Mr. Marinazzo said he instead fixated on the sketch, wondering why the artist would portray himself standing with one leg slightly crossing the other—a shaky stance for anyone standing on scaffolding.

Mr. Marinazzo rotated a digital image of the letter last year and had an epiphany: The posture and pose of the sketched man looked eerily similar to that of God on the ceiling, a move the historian is now convinced was intentional.

“He’s hidden himself in the ceiling,” he said. “The face is idealised because Michelangelo was self-conscious about his smashed nose, but this is the closest he’s ever come to presenting himself as divine.”

Not everyone is convinced. Paul Barolsky, a Renaissance art historian at the University of Virginia, said he needs corroborating proof that the sketch inspired the final product. Michelangelo left behind hundreds of letters, including several where he wrote self-deprecatingly about his looks after a rival painter punched and broke his nose. He also created preparatory drawings of the figures’ hands in that pivotal scene on the ceiling. Never once did the artist claim to have modelled the figure of God after himself. “Everybody’s got theories, but you’ve got to do better than that,” Mr. Barolsky said.

Yet other scholars who have read Mr. Marinazzo’s hypothesis see merit in the claim.

William Wallace, a historian at Washington University in St. Louis who has written eight books on Michelangelo, said Mr. Marinazzo has made a “clever connection” about an artist whose crackling sense of humor is often overlooked. Mr. Wallace said he could “totally entertain” a theory wherein the artist painted himself as God. “He liked to laugh at himself, so this could be a hint.”

Gary Radke, an Italian Renaissance expert at New York’s Syracuse University, said he is now equally curious about the artist’s stance in the sketch. “Who stands like that on scaffolding?” Mr. Radke said. “It raises questions about interpretation, and Adriano has seen something new.”

Mr. Radke thinks the artist, who prized his own skills, may have subconsciously related to the God figure he was painting at the time.

Certainly the task before him was gargantuan. At the time Michelangelo took the commission, he was in his 30s—far younger than the God he painted—and already deemed one of Florence’s greatest sculptors, having carved “David” in Florence and the “Pietà” of St. Peter’s a few years before. He famously preferred sculpting over painting and accused his peers of recommending him for the ceiling job so they could watch him fail, scholars say.

Pope Julius II only asked him to paint the 12 apostles in the triangular shapes lining the outer edges of the barrel-vaulted ceiling, leaving the centre painted like a night sky with gilt stars. Instead, Michelangelo took over the entire span, ultimately re-creating a vast, biblical story about man’s search for God and redemption.

The result was widely hailed the moment it was unveiled in 1512, with Michelangelo’s biographer Giorgio Vasari describing the artist as “something divine rather than mortal.”

Mr. Radke said it often takes time for scholars to accept new ideas involving Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Another theory gaining traction alleges that the artist modelled the billowing cloak surrounding God after the shape of a human brain, he said. Ditto the notion that the woman and toddler tucked under God’s left arm represent Christ and his mother, Mary.

When it comes to Michelangelo selfies, there’s also precedent: Two decades after the artist finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo returned to the same room to paint a wall-spanning view of Christ’s Second Coming. In 1925, a scholar first suggested that Michelangelo likely painted himself in the flayed skin held by St. Bartholomew in that work, “The Last Judgment,” and the idea has since caught on.

“Michelangelo had an ego beyond belief,” Mr. Radke said, “so all his art was autobiography to him. He was a modern artist in that way.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

Related Stories
Designing Dreams: David Charette’s fascinating Spaces for Children’s Adventures
The Bugatti Baby II Type 35 Centenary Edition Honors the Legendary Racing Legacy
Booking Now Open for AROYA Cruises’ Red Sea Adventures in December 2024
Designing Dreams: David Charette’s fascinating Spaces for Children’s Adventures

David Charette has teamed up with CIRCU Magical Furniture to design spaces that capture the essence of childhood wonder.

Tue, May 21, 2024 4 min

This collaboration between David Charette, founder and principal of Britto Charette, and CIRCU Magical Furniture aims to stimulate the imaginations of children, encouraging them to invent their own tales of adventure. Drawing on his extensive travels, Charette believes that journeying through different cultures can spark creativity in young minds.

His latest venture uses a mix of luxury elements and magical themes, incorporating products from CIRCU, Covet House, and other vendors to create unique, enchanting children’s rooms. These spaces are designed to reflect the excitement and mystery of exploring new worlds.

The Sleeping are:

David Charette has transformed a Montreal residence into a magical sleeping area where time seems to pause, and adventures await. Known for its long, cold winters and short days, Montreal served as the perfect backdrop for Charette’s vision of a space that remains warm and bright throughout the year.

Central to the design is the concept of “light and bright,” brought to life using de Gournay‘s hand-painted wall coverings in fresh mint, decorated with flying butterflies. These elements beautifully complement the original shapes of the KOKET Nymph Wall Lamp and the organic curves of the CIRCU Tristen Bed.

Charette’s attachment to the Tristen Bed stems not only from its youthful appeal but also from its ergonomic design, which makes it easy for children to climb in and out of, enhancing both its functionality and charm.

The Bed:

Charette paired the modern lines of the bed with the unique design of the Boca do Lobo Wave Nightstand and the funky style of Delightfull’s Billy Table Lamp. By blending these contemporary pieces with the classic elements in the decor of this luxury kids’ room, Charette has crafted a unique space that breathes a natural breeze of inspiration into any child’s environment.

This combination not only adds aesthetic appeal but also stimulates the imagination, making the room a perfect sanctuary for creativity and dreams.

The seating area:

The room also includes a cozy seating area perfect for young readers. Centred around the CIRCU Dainty Armchair, this space is tailored for kids, with the chair’s delicate structure and elegant design enhancing the room’s charm. Its pink velvet upholstery adds a vibrant pop of color, enriching the room’s palette. To distinctly separate this reading corner from the rest of the sleeping area, Charette chose the Boca Do Lobo Gold Folding Screen from Covet House, which not only adds an element of privacy but also contributes a touch of sophistication to the space.

The Play and Study area:

David Charette aimed to create a space with an “Out of Africa” vibe to spark a child’s imagination and inspire a passion for lifelong adventures and travels. Drawing from fond memories of camping during his own childhood, Charette incorporated a Teepee Tent into the room’s design, allowing children to feel as they are camping in a forest right within their own bedroom.

This nature-inspired theme is beautifully complemented by the Fornasetti wall coverings from Cole & Son and the Filigree Cricket Wall Lamp, which are insect-shaped sconces by Boca do Lobo.

Adding to the ambiance, Charette notes, “The clouds on the ceiling further the idea of camping (in this case “glamping”) and dreaming, and the Circu Cloud Suspension lamps add to the dreamy camping vibe.”

To maintain this adventurous theme, Charette selected the CIRCU NODO Suspension Chair. It not only brings a hint of outdoor fun indoors with an elegant flair but also offers a comfy spot for kids to unwind and lose themselves in their favorite stories.

In his design, David Charette, of Britto Charette, focused on enhancing the sense of freedom and sparking children’s imaginations in their own space. He chose one of his favorite pieces from CIRCU, the Sky Desk, for its playful design and inspirational form. Shaped like an airplane, this desk not only becomes the central feature of playtime but also transforms homework into an exciting adventure. The unique design aims to captivate and motivate young minds, turning everyday tasks into a flight of imagination.

David Charette designed this luxury children’s room with the hope that it would inspire children to dream, play, and develop a deep respect for nature as they embark on their own adventures.

He crafted the room to be “transitional,” capable of evolving with a child from toddler years into adolescence. This design approach not only aims to create a lasting, imaginative space for children but also to show parents the value of investing in unique, high-quality pieces like those from Circu. These carefully chosen items stand out from mass-produced children’s designs, offering both aesthetic appeal and long-term utility.


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop