Knowing that for centuries it was believed Michelangelo’s nose was broken in 1491, I had been puzzled to find that portraits of the man after the early 1490s showed him with the appendage still in pristine condition, but I let it go.
Then today I realized I had omitted one of the portraits I had already encountered of the man. It was the ‘Three Kings’ by Mantegna, dated 1506, and shows Michelangelo as one of the Magi:
Putting this likeness together with the others we had, there was a striking similarity, and his nose was – again – unbroken. So I thought… why not try to find more portraits of the man, around the 1515 to 1520 period? A quick search in Wikipedia under ‘Paintings’ and the year, and two more likenesses popped right out – dated 1515 (by Cima de Conegliano) and 1516 (by Raphael). Both were marked with Michelangelo’s name, and when I put them all together this is what I saw:
In 1515 Cima de Conegliano, and then in 1516 (Raphael, who detested Michelangelo), two more artists depicted him with his nose intact. But there is much more. The 1516 work by Raphael is a double portrait, and I wondered if, just possibly, the other character might be Pietro Torrigiano, who history records as having broken the immortal nose.
The painting is greatly darkened by age, but lightening in Photoshop, and increasing the tonal contrast on the foreheads revealed some remarkable detail, which, with a couple of hours careful study revealed that the second character is indeed Pietro Torrigiano… and Raphael found what happened in 1516 highly amusing…
Apart from the mirth, Raphael would have been well aware of Michelangelo’s claims to be of regal descent – claims now known to be correct – and with no little sarcasm also called him ‘Rey grullo’: that is to say: ‘stupid king’.
Then, when we look at how Raphael depicted Michelangelo in his ‘Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary’, painted the following year, 1517… the nose is noticeably flatter.
So – I was wrong in suggesting the famous nose was broken in 1517. It was flattened the year before, and now we can be sure that the disapproving Lorenzo de’ Medici referred to in Vasari’s account was indeed Lorenzo the Magnificent’s grandson; that Torrigiani did the deed; …and we even know what the culprit looked like!