Great Works: Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi c.1528-32 (411 x 292 mm), Michelangelo Buonarroti

British Museum, London

Michelangelo was profoundly ill at ease with himself and the world. You can glimpse this heightened degree of psychological agitation by the way he so often treats his materials, wrenching and pulverising them, ever impossibly demanding. Think, for example, of those multiple studies, drawn, painted or sculpted (there could never be too many studies), of naked male bodies in extreme, muscular postures, as if seeking to outdo themselves. There is little calm about this world of his. Nothing has come to rest – nor will it ever do so, we feel.

It is therefore perfectly understandable that Michelangelo should have produced so few drawn portraits during his lifetime. Human beings were simply not perfect enough for his attentions. They were a touch too humdrum in their common humanity. Except, perhaps, for an exquisite two or three, amongst whom we must surely number the young Andrea Quaratesi, the subject of this study. In mood and character, this painstakingly tender and attentive drawing in chalk feels set apart from much of the rest of what we know of Michelangelo. The monster has, momentarily at least, stopped roaring. It does not seek to heroicise its subject. It is as if he has gently settled back down on Earth, and is once again a mortal amongst other mortals. Yes, the miracle of this drawing lies in the fact that it is both exquisitely beautiful and exquisitely ordinary. Clothes apart, there is nothing much here other than the unadorned splendour of this boy's lovely humanity.

The subject was the son of a family of Florentine bankers who may have protected the artist during politically turbulent times. Michelangelo is also said to have given the boy drawing lessons. What age is he? Perhaps a little under 20 – or younger still. It is quite difficult to judge. He is evidently burgeoning. We see that from the gentle plumping of his lips and much else. The young man stands side on to us, his face twisted to the left, as if mildly surprised to be observed, almost caught out. He is richly, fashionably dressed – but not excessively so. His clothes do not overwhelm his character. And yet they do plump out his physique – admire, for example, the shapeliness of those shoulders, and how they are made so by the cut of the padded and pleated garment that he is wearing. The clothes seem to suggest that he is a touch older and more mature than the vulnerable, boy-like creature who inhabits them. The collar is crisply upright, as if endowing the neck with the authority of adulthood. The boy resides in that comical bristle of nape hairs. The left shoulder faces us, almost pushes back against us, as if to say: a little distance, please. Although these clothes help to define him physically – in fact, we could truthfully say that they put years on his back – they do not really control how we feel about him. There is a sweetness, a touching, alluring douceur in that look of his. There is wariness too. Michelangelo has emphasised the beauty of irises and pupils by making the eyes slightly bulbous, as if magnified by the overwhelming attraction of the artist's gaze. The drawing is in black chalk, which adds to a sense of modesty and restraint. No single element rasps or blares back at us. The drawing – we see upper torso and head – is surprisingly large and imposing: about two-thirds life size. Michelangelo must have been standing breathingly close to his subject when he made it nearly 500 years ago. The chalk marks – we see them quite clearly – are tiny strokes, hundreds of them.

What is this drawing saying to us? Well, it seems to be lamenting the early passing away of such youthful beauty – this is a subject which Michelangelo had also addressed in his poems. We must bear in mind, too, that he was about 18 or so years the boy's senior when he made this work. He might have been remembering himself. Had he been quite so beautiful at this age? No, perhaps not.


Regarded by many as the greatest artist of the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) was extraordinarily accomplished as a painter, sculptor and architect. He also wrote a considerable body of fine poetry. His jealous, tempestuous nature is almost as legendary as his great works, which include his statue of 'David', which is on display in the Accademia, Florence (a replica of the same statue stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio), his 'Pietà' in the Vatican Museums, Rome, and his decorative schemes for the Sistine Chapel. He seldom gave away his drawings. In fact, he hoarded them with the utmost secrecy lest lesser rivals steal his ideas. This drawing is one of a batch acquired by the British Museum directly from the Buonarroti family later in the 19th century.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m