Four more hidden portraits of the great Baroque master Caravaggio have apparently been discovered in one of his paintings.
According to ANSA, the Italian news agency, Rossella Vodret, a Caravaggio scholar and Rome Museum Superintendent, has suggested Caravaggio may have used himself as a model for the faces of four men in the painting Adoration Of The Shepherds.
''For Caravaggio, the presence of a self-portrait in his paintings became almost a kind of trademark,'' said Vodret, who was quoted by ANSA.
In the Adoration, Caravaggio seems to have used his own face as it would haved looked at four different stages of his life. These were then imposed on the faces of three shepherds and Joseph, who are witnesses to the birth of Christ. The men appear to range in age from a fairly young fellow to a greybeard. The painting is one of Caravaggio’s last works and was painted while he was in exile from Rome, living in Sicily.
It may not have been ego as much as necessity that drove him to use his own image in the painting -- Vodret suggested Caravaggio simply may not have had enough other models to choose from at the time.
Still, most scholars agree that Caravaggio – whose full name was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio -- appeared in several of his paintings. His Young Sick Bacchus (1593), completed at the age of 22 while recovering from a long illness, is widely accepted as a self-portrait.
And in his painting of David And Goliath (1609), Caravaggio gave the giant's severed head his own face. Some scholars argue that that was intended as a kind of symbolic gesture of penance for the wild life the artist lived in Rome. In 1606, Caravaggio killed a young man in a brawl and fled from Rome with a price on his head. In Malta in 1608 he was involved in another brawl, and yet another in Naples in 1609. By the next year, after a relatively brief career, he was dead.
The Adoration Of The Shepherds had recently undergone a public four-month restoration at the Italian parliament buildings in Rome, ANSA reported. During this period, visitors were able to watch the restoration experts at work on the painting. It shows Mary sitting on the stable floor, propped up against a wooden box, with the Baby Jesus in her arms. There are four men in the picture, traditionally interpreted as Joseph bringing three shepherds to worship the baby.
Mary's slumped position, the donkey and ox in the background, the straw and tumbledown wooden furniture all create a sense of simplicity and display the realism that Caravaggio was famous for. The painting was commissioned by the Senate of Messina, Sicily, for the Capuchin church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
The artist was paid 1,000 scudi for it - the highest sum he ever received for a single work.
The painting is now scheduled to return from Rome to its home at the Regional Museum in Messina. It will reportedly on rest there only briefly, before joining several other exhibitions over coming months commemorating 500 years since Caravaggio’s death.