No Big Discovery in the Pauline Chapel

For years people have thought this painting  was  a self-portrait of Michelangelo.

michelangelo pauline self-portrait

It was put on the cover of a collection of his writings way back in 1987,  still for sale at Abebooks:
michelangelo's self-portrait

On the back it says: “Cover Illustration: detail of Crucifixion of St. Peter (assumed to be a self-portrait), c. 1550, by Michelangelo”.

So the latest cleaning of the frescoes in the Pauline Chapel did NOT reveal anything, except of course the bright colors.

Yet look at the headlines:

Vatican: Michelangelo self-portrait revealed in chapel fresco‎ – 3 days ago…
Michelangelo’s self-portrait was discovered by head of Vatican restorations…
AKI – Adnkronos International

2 Jul 2009 … of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Vatican’s Pauline Chapel may have produced a special prize _ a previously unknown self-portrait of the ……/

‘Michelangelo self-portrait’ discovered in restored Vatican fresco …
2 Jul 2009 … Michelangelo is also said to have included a self-portrait in Last … Michelangelo began work on the Pauline Chapel murals after he had …

Michelangelo self-portrait said to be found in Vatican fresco …
2 Jul 2009 … The discovery was made in the Vatican’s Pauline Chapel, … left corner of Michelangelo’s “The Crucifixion of St. Peter” is a self-portrait, …

Michelangelo self-portrait may have been found – Science –
2 Jul 2009 … Michelangelo self-portrait may have been found … The Cappella Paolina, or the Pauline Chapel, in the Apostolic Palace is used by the pope … –

Possible Michelangelo self-portrait revealed – Kansas City Star
2 Jul 2009 … The restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Vatican’s Pauline Chapel may … prize – a previously unknown self-portrait of the artist. – Cached – Similar

No discovery, no revelation.

Read about Michelangelo’s great frescoes in the Pauline Chapel here.


This entry was posted in art, art history, Michelangelo, Pauline Chapel. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to No Big Discovery in the Pauline Chapel

  1. wrjones says:

    Did anyone comment as to why they thought this was a self portrait?

    • 100swallows says:

      Bill: See Justme22’s link in his latest post. I had never heard any convincing justification for the self-portrait attribution–and now I still haven’t.

  2. erikatakacs says:

    Sad and scary state of today’s media: someone makes a claim, a statement at a press conference, and the world media readily accepts it unchallenged, unconfirmed. But why are art historians staying mum on this?

  3. Ken Januski says:

    I’m afraid that it’s only going to get worse. As print media continue their sad decline they continue to cut staff and limit what they cover and how they cover it. So things do tend to get sloppier(copy editing outsourced around the world for instance) and someone who doesn’t know much about art thinks a story about a ‘new’ Michelangelo self-portrait, especially when accompanied by an attention-getting but inaccurate headline, will sell product.

    There is of course much online commentary about MSM(Mainstream Media) and how it is losing out to the much more accurate online media. Swallows post in a way is a good example. Here he clearly shows how ridiculous it is to say that this is a ‘newly’ discovered self-portrait. So online media tells the truth, undercutting MSM. However look at the source of the quotes. How many of them are online? Quite a few, if not all. It seems to me that online media goes even more for publishing first and correcting later. I’d be very happy if posts such as Swallows eventually made their way to the editors of the publications noted above and they all acknowledged their errors. Unfortunately, and I really do mean unfortunately, I don’t think this will probably happen.

    I have to admit my bias here. I’ve earned a living in MSM for the past 25 years, though not as a writer. I see its problems but I also think it has always been the best defense against sensationalist journalism. Obviously I also see the value of the online community. But sometimes they combine in bad ways. This seems to be an example. A false headline flashes around the world. How many people will ever see the correction to the false headline? I hope very, very many but I fear that won’t be the case.

  4. Rich says:

    Fine example here, picture and text as well!
    How deceiving headlines can be! And I found quite a few Swallows out there in the web, with striking examples as this one. They all keep educating us to look at things with some discernment and not to just believe everything that appears in newspapers.

    Nice detail view, this portrait. The figure behind his shoulder is beautiful. Is he or she whispering something in Michelangelos’s ear? Is it his muse? He seems to be listening with attention.

    • Ken Januski says:

      But Rich,

      Are these ‘newspapers?’ They’re all online aren’t they? The Huffington Post isn’t a newspaper. It’s one of the most popular online sites. Most people probably don’t know that the online portion of a newspaper’s is often run separately from the newspaper itself. So what goes online, especially a story such as this, doesn’t necessarily appear in the print newspaper.

      I don’t want to go off on a tangent on this and it really seems about as effective as tilting as windmills based on my nearly daily reading on msm vs. online news. That is, I’ve met with little success.

      The example here is a perfect example of how much online news works. Someone somewhere, often a publicist, says something that is picked up by a news aggregator. They publish it more or less verbatim and it is in turn picked up by other online news aggregagors with the slightest if any changes. It would be interesting to see how many sites linked back to HuffPo. I wonder how many of the sites similar to Swallows that you found are as widely read as HuffPo. There are sloppy msm out there, many made sloppier by constant cuts and current economic conditions, so I’m sure that they played their part as well.

      But people often say that msm is dead and the news is ‘free’ on the web. When you try to do any in-depth research though you often find that most of the stories seem to be almost identical, like someone published a statement just such as the one about Michelangelo’s self-portrait and then the rest of the world copied it. MSM in the past has offered a more diverse view on the topic, at least in my opinion. The newspapers who didn’t do so were often just lazy or didn’t have reporters in that location or who specialized in that subject, so chose to run with just one source: AP. But if you looked you could find varying views on a story.

      That seems less and less true today. And yet people think that news is free and that it’s far better on the web than it is in print. I was reminded of this about 6 months ago when an earthquake was reported in my area. I spent about an hour searching on the web. There were many stories but all with the same source: Associated Press. So just one story on all the web.

      If you search for ‘pine thrush’ on the web you’ll even find it at Wikipedia, where it says it is a bird found at White Pines State Park in Illinois. The only problem is no such bird exists. I informed the State Park of this a number of years ago and they said they looked into it. I see no sign of it and even Wikipedia now perpetuates the mistake. Once such a mistake gets on the web it can take a very long time to get corrected. I’d correct it myself if I had the slightest idea what the State Park actually was referring to when it said the ‘spreading branches are filled with pine thrush.’

      It is so easy for mistakes to be perpetuated on the web. I don’t want to continue on in my defense of newspapers. But I do want to repeat what I said originally: things like this will only get worse I’m afraid.

      • Ken Januski says:

        I just spent a good 15 minutes searching for more on this story and could only find Swallows as someone who called it in question. It all seems to have come from a statement by the chief restorer. Then all the world’s media, both print and online, seem to have picked it up and run with it verbatim.

        I guess they covered themselves by saying ‘possible’ in the headline.

        Congratulations to you Swallows on showing the difficulties with the restorer’s statement.

        It is really stunning to see the same story repeated over and over and over. That is what scares me about the future of ‘news.’

      • 100swallows says:

        Ken: Now there’s a big old melon! Thanks for your comments on this subject, which I know little about. Tocqueville thought the thousands of local newspapers in the U.S. of his time were fundamental to the system. I bet there are fewer now than in his time, and they get their news from a handful of press agencies. “We are all going to end up having the same opinions about everything,” said a friend of mine. Right at a time when the possibilities for information are greater than ever before.
        See justme22’s latest comment with the interview with De Luca.

        • Ken Januski says:


          Of course after I’d written it I thought about melons, but by then it was too late. And of course the ‘newsiness’ of news on the web has been a pet peeve for a very long time. So I ended up completely forgetting about melons, lengthy posts, etc.

          But next time…………….

          Congratulations again on seeming to be the only one who has called this ‘news’ into question.

          • Ken Januski says:


            I hope you won’t charge me for extra bandwidth here.

            I just wanted to say something about your rude complainant on another thread today. But I’m not doing it there because I don’t want to further inflame matters. In any case I was sad to see such a rude attack. Perhaps he is right in requesting some recognition but no one should go about it in such a manner. Enough said on that but I just wanted to offer my sympathies.


            • 100swallows says:

              Thanks, Ken. It IS easy to get angry when you discover that someone has been using your material. At Google Images I saw his nice, colorful close-up of the bees on Bernini’s column, thought it was just right for my purposes, and took it. Was it enough to link it to his blog, so readers went there only if they clicked? I guess not.
              By the way, all your comments are welcome. I only wish I had the time to entrar al trapo, as the Spaniards say–meaning, to charge (like the bull) all those (attractive) capes you wave. As you see, I can’t even go after all the ones I myself wave.

    • 100swallows says:

      Rich: I think those figures are not conversing–they are only close together because of the distance and the perspective.

  5. erikatakacs says:

    Ken, I agree with you, what is scary is that it is happening in politics as well, which is very dangerous. But this is not the place to get into that…
    What makes me wonder, why art historians, writers, experts who should know more about this, don’t dispute it?

  6. justme22 says:

    This story on the online media is quite convoluted and is further proof of what the other commenters are saying. If you look at this YouTube report – very nice views of the Pauline by the way – they state that the self-portrait identified in this restoration was of the face of the SAINT PAUL!

    On this other Italian online media site
    is a recorded telephone interview with the head of the Vatican restorations, Maurizio de Luca, where he explains (quick translation) how he came to the conclusion that the blue turbaned figure riding into the scene on the left of the Crucifixion of Saint Peter is the Michelangelo self portrait signature, whereas that in earlier times experts used to focus on either the crucified Saint Peter’s face, or the fallen Saint Paul’s as the artist’s self-portrait signature (both figures with whom Michelangelo would have identified in their sufferings). I don’t know how Mr. De Luca makes such a claim since the theory of the turbaned figure has been around for decades as Swallows pointed out. Mr. De Luca goes on to explain that the turbaned figure reminded him of a portrait of Michelangelo – which can be seen in the above link – by Giuliano Bugiardini, depicted wearing a sort of turban which scalpellini – stone cutters – used to wear to protect themselves from the flying stone dust and chips. Also that as he continued to work on the restoration, that he realized the figure was distinctive and meticulously painted contrary to the other riders next to it which are much more vague, and that the beard has practically individually painted hairs. He also pointed out that the turbaned figure was proven as having been painted in one day, and other interesting discoveries such as the identification of the very last brush strokes of Michelangelo amid the crying women on the right. He stated that he did not come to this conclusion of the self-portrait alone but after discussion with his colleagues, various experts and art historians. Just a little summary….I agree that someone qualified should at least write to the interviewer to set him straight about the claim.

    What is strange is that in some major Italian newspapers – Corriere della Sera which is like their New York Times, and the Osservatore Romano which is the semi official Vatican newspaper – there is no mention of any self-portrait discoveries at all in their articles about the restoration. so the media has run away with it. Sorry about this long comment.

    An Italian art lover in Quebec

    • 100swallows says:

      Justme22: Thank you very much for these links and your comment. That is very strange that the big Italian newspapers don’t mention the “discovery”. You’d think the colleagues and art historians who helped De Luca reach his conclusion would have told him that he had not “discovered the Mediterranean” (as the Spanish say).

  7. Rich says:

    …Entrar al trapo!

    Those melons, once opened, which have to be eaten…etc…etc..all those Spanish proverbs.
    So nice to be acquainted with all these.

    • 100swallows says:

      Rich: Like Sancho Panza I could use Spanish sayings for nearly every situation. English and German ones (that I know) are moralistic (and fewer) but Spanish sayings and locutions are descriptive and a little cynical sometimes and always colorful.

  8. Ken Januski says:

    I never stop enjoying hearing them, Swallows. I think your description is apt, especially the colorful part. I’m sure I’d enjoy them even more if I had the slightest knowledge of Spanish.

    • 100swallows says:

      Ken and Rich: Since you fellows like those Spanish sayings, here are a few just off the top of my head. Really—I’m no Sancho Panza. Every Spaniard knows these and uses them from time to time:
      How did you guess that? Ah, but “the devil knows more because he’s old than because he’s the devil”?
      (El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo)

      Someone “lights one candle to God and another to the devil”.
      (poner una vela a Diós y otra al diablo)

      Someone else “throws the stone and then hides his hand”.
      (tira la piedra y esconde la mano”)

      You shouldn’t lean on another: Here “each mast has to support its own sail”.
      (cada palo tiene que soportar su vela)

      You can’t be both places: in the procession AND in the tower, ringing the bell.
      (no puedes estar en la procesión y repicando)

      How is he? He looks all right but he must be suffering. “ The procession is going on inside”.
      (la procesión va por dentro)

      How strange: he’s a car designer but he rides a bike to work. Well, you know what they say: “At home the blacksmith eats with wooden utensils”.
      (en casa del herrero, cuchillos de palo)

      He sent out invitations to dozens of people but only four cats showed up.
      (cuatro gatos=a ridiculously small number)

      • Ken Januski says:

        Thanks Swallows,

        As Rich says ‘So nice to be acquainted with all of these.’ I especially like ‘cuatros gatos’. I should learn enough Spanish to be able to toss these out when appropriate. It seem to be that such sayings are a condensation of the collective wisdom and literature of a culture.


  9. justme22 says:

    Although this way off the subject, Cuatros gatos made me smile, how far these old expressions have travelled! I have heard it from the older members of the family in Italy even in the mountain villages of the Abruzzi – quattro gatti. But in dialect I won’t even try to write it!
    How about this one: Tutto fa brodo (literally, you can make soup out of anything, in other words, anything goes, or it’s all good…)

    • 100swallows says:

      Justme22: So the Italians speak of four cats too. How funny! I think it is an expression that English might pick up. Shall we try to get it going, though we are only four cats (you, Rich, Ken, and I)?
      See my old post on Picasso at the Four Cats Beer Parlor.
      And I will try to serve tutto fa brodo to my Spanish friends and see if it catches on.

  10. justme22 says:

    Good idea Swallows and thanks for the reference to your post.
    I for one will do my best to promote Four Cats this side of town.

    • 100swallows says:

      Justme22: Did you by any chance keep a copy of your last comment here? I accidentally unapproved it, so now I can’t recover it. I’m very sorry, as you had spent good time writing it and there were a couple of links there too.

  11. Pingback: You Agnostic ? « F I S H I N G

  12. Paul fishing says:

    Enjoyed reading through this site, I will send this site to a few of my friends

Leave a Reply