Michelangelo: a self-caricature

Caricature misshapes the masks that society applies to the human face. This is why artists use deformation to build self-representations that contradict the social stereotypes of self-fashioning. In one of his poems, Michelangelo Buonarroti portrays his physical and psychological dejection creating a proper self-caricature: bluish coloured eyes, rotten teeth, a face that is fit to terrify, damaged clothes, injured ears and laboured breathing. The self-caricature involves not just the body of the artist, but also his own work of art: his writings become valueless scribblings, and his sculptures are seen as useless rag-dolls.

Rembrandt, Self Portrait as Zeuxis, 1662, Amsterdam, Rijks Museum. Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

In a way that could remind of Rembrandt’s ruthless self-portraits, the artist exposes, as Agamben would say, his bare life as a denial of the supreme, idealised, spiritual beauty of his works.

Gli occhi di biffa macinati e pesti,
i denti come tasti di stormento
c’al moto lor la voce suoni e resti.
La faccia mia ha forma di spavento;
i panni da cacciar, senz’altro telo,
dal seme senza pioggia i corbi al vento.
Mi cova in un orecchio un ragnatelo,
ne l’altro canta un grillo tutta notte;
né dormo e russ’ al catarroso anelo.
Amor, le muse e le fiorite grotte,
mie scombiccheri, a’ cemboli, a’ cartocci,
agli osti, a’ cessi, a’ chiassi son condotte.
Che giova voler far tanti bambocci,
se m’han condotto al fin, come colui
che passò ’l mar e poi affogò ne’ mocci?
L’arte pregiata, ov’alcun tempo fui
di tant’opinïon, mi rec’a questo,
povero, vecchio e servo in forz’altrui,
ch’i’ son disfatto, s’i’ non muoio presto.

Rime, capitolo 267, vv. 37-55

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