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Daniele da Volterra | Unfinished portrait of Michelangelo, 1544

Date: probably ca. 1544
Medium: Oil on wood
Dimensions: 34 3/4 x 25 1/4 in. (88.3 x 64.1 cm)
Classification: Paintings
Credit Line: Gift of Clarence Dillon, 1977
Accession Number: 1977.384.1

When this work was first published in the nineteenth century it was considered a self-portrait by Michelangelo (De Romanis 1823), an attribution that persisted into the twentieth century, although Gaetano Milanesi (1882) and others (Knapp 1912, Garnault 1913) ascribed it to Francesco Salviati (1510-1563). Gaetano Guasti (1893) was the first to identify it with a portrait of Michelangelo by Jacopino del Conte (1515-1598) mentioned by Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists (1568, p. 258), and this association was taken up by most later scholars.
Recently, however, Andrea Donati (2010) has convincingly attributed the painting to Daniele da Volterra🎨, dating it 1544.
By the 1530s, Daniele had left his native Tuscany for Rome, where he fell under the influence of Michelangelo, becoming a loyal disciple and close friend.
At the end of his life, Daniele was hired by Pope Paul IV to paint over the bodies in Michelangelo's fresco of "The Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel, for which he earned the nickname "Il Braghettone" (the breeches maker).
Donati's attribution is based in part on the composition of the Holy Family visible in x-rays underneath the unfinished portrait (see Additional Images), which seems to relate to a painting by Daniele in the d'Elci collection, Siena. Donati also identifies the picture with a work included in Daniele's inventory of 1566.
The painting may subsequently have passed to Fulvio Orsini (1529-1600), an antiquarian and collector who was employed by the Farnese family in Rome, eventually becoming the tutor of Odoardo Farnese (1573–1626), to whom he bequeathed most of his collection. Orsini's inventory of 1600 includes a portrait of Michelangelo attributed to Jacopino del Conte.
Inventories of the Palazzo Farnese of 1644 and 1653 include self-portraits of Michelangelo, one of which could also be the Museum's picture.
The painting is next heard of in the nineteenth century, when it was said to have been bought by baron Alquier in Naples (De Romanis 1823), where the Farnese collection had been transferred in the eighteenth century.
After the painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867) saw the picture in 1852 in the Chaix d'Est-Ange collection in Paris, he praised it as a self-portrait by Michelangelo in a letter now in the Museum's collection (1977.384.2; see Additional Images).
This portrait of Michelangelo is the prototype for numerous images of the Florentine master (Du Teil 1913 and Donati 2010). Since it was, for no apparent reason, left unfinished, the portraits that depend from it show various attempts to deal with the unpainted torso.
One copy known as the Strozzi or Uffizi portrait, now in the Casa Buonarroti, Florence, was formerly considered the primary version by some authorities. | © The Metropolitan Museum of Art