(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)

Last Judgment (detail)

Cappella Sistina, Vatican

The artist's self-portrait appears twice in the Last Judgment: in the flayed skin which Saint Bartholomew is carrying in his left-hand, and in the figure in the lower left hand corner, who is looking encouragingly at those rising from their graves.

The present picture shows St Bartolomew and the flayed skin.

In the middle of the Last Judgment fresco on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, to the right beneath Christ the Judge, our eye is drawn to the place where the apostle and martyr St Bartholomew is displaying his attributes. In his right hand he is holding the knife with which, as legend had it, he was skinned alive; in his left, he is holding the skin itself, including that of the face, with its tortured folds and demonic hollows. Beholders have always noted the particular similarity of this tattered facial bladder with the famous gnarled and melancholic face of the artist. This dark countenance of the 'divino artista' was known from paintings by fellow artists, and in at least one case from a sculpture by Michelangelo himself. In the Pietà in Florence, the figure of Nicodemus, who is holding the body of Jesus, just taken down from the Cross, close to his breast in sorrow, is probably also a hidden self-portrait. And it has also always struck beholders that the flayed face in the Last Judgment bears no resemblance to the face of the saint sitting on his cloud. Instead, the apostle evinces a fateful and unmistakable similarity with Michelangelo's notorious contemporary Pietro Aretino. Those among the fresco's beholders who recognized this at the time would certainly have heard too of the private feud between the moody giant of art and the intriguing head of the literati.