He was aged around sixty at the time. Many art critics have questioned if da Vinci truly did mean this painting to be a self portrait, as the image he created seems to be far older than his sixty years.
Is the famous Self Portrait really a self portrait? Or is it merely a representation of how he observed himself to be as an older man? We will never know, but the image he created does look like him.
When observing the painting, we clearly see an old man, with long and presumably white hair and with a beard, who is staring ahead, seemingly unthinking.
His expression is so very hard to read and it appears to be either that of contemplation or extreme sadness. His eyes though are heavily shaded and it is for this reason that his expression is so very hard to fathom.
What is not surprising is that this stylistic use of creating the eyes in such a manner, was very typical of the time when representing philosophers in art form. Many observers believe that the old man image could possibly be that of the Almighty, that of a God like figure.
This may be because of the solemnity of the image, or perhaps the fact that the old man does indeed seem to be of a higher being.
The entirety of the image has been constructed from incredibly fine and intricate lines, that have been painstakingly applied to create the old man. The red chalk was applied to brown paper which helps to add to the seriousness of the image.
What is staggering about this self portrait is the fact that he created such a life like image of himself using only chalks. Today, it is often this very image that is used to describe what the great artist looked like.
What this self portrait so clearly evokes is that of the individual and individualism, something that da Vinci was very passionate about. He wanted to show the real side of human nature, flaws and all. He had studied the human body in great detail so as to perfect his work, and this is very evident in this self portrait.
Controversy and Analysis
It makes sense, then, that his artwork biography would also be world-famous. Estimated to have been created around 1512, it is a portrait drawn with red chalk on paper and an example of his immense skill in portraiture.
The dimensions of the painting are 33.3cm x 21.3cm (13 1/8 in. x 8 3/8 in.), which makes it quite small - about half the size of the famous Mona Lisa (1503). This artwork is subject to a decree of immovability, meaning it can only be moved with ministerial permission because it is so valuable.
It's high value is most likely because it is the only one believed to be a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. While there is much to be said in regards to the portrait, it is important to know some details of the man behind the art.
This portrait has created much controversy as there is much debate as to the actual subject of this painting. The common perception is that this is a self-portrait by da Vinci around the age of 60. Other scholars think it could be a representation of how Leonardo imagined himself to look as an old man. However, some art historians and scholars have their doubts and believe the sitter for the portrait could be someone else.
One of these reasons is that the sitter looks to be much older than da Vinci would have been. Critics estimate the age of the subject to be closer to 80 instead of 60. Some believe it to be Leonardo's father, Piero, or his uncle, named Francesco, because they lived longer than da Vinci. Their claims are supported by various da Vinci scholars and historians.
This group includes: Robert Payne, who wrote a biography of da Vinci; Martin Kemp, a professor of art history and an expert on Leonardo; Pietro Marani, an art historian, professor and author; Carlo Pedretti, an Italian historian who focussed on the life and works of da Vinci; and, Larry J. Feinberg, who wrote various books about Leonardo da Vinci.
Despite the doubt and controversy surrounding the portrait, there is much to be said of the artwork in terms of analysis. While it may seem like just a portrait, it causes much discussion. Like the saying goes - "A picture is worth a thousand words." If this is in fact da Vinci, he is said to have represented himself as a philosopher. The traditional representation of a philosopher at this time was an old man with long, white hair and a long, white beard with serious and pensive eyes shadowed by bushy eyebrows.
The length of the hair is particularly significant as it was commonly associated with wisdom. Da Vinci would have wanted people to see him as a philosopher as he is known to have seen painters being equal with nature and as powerful, influential individuals. Similarly, it is believed Biography shows da Vinci as a polymath, or a Renaissance Man, which is someone who is knowledgeable and experienced in a wide array of subjects and skills. As mentioned above, it is known today how many ideas da Vinci had outside of the artistic realm, so his depiction of himself may not be wrong.
There are also elements of the Renaissance tied into this portrait. As is known, the Renaissance was a time of change in all sectors of society. One of these is the significance of the individual, or humanism.
This movement placed importance on human matters rather than divine ones. Furthermore, humans were seen as having high potential and sincere goodness and their needs were very important.
Some analysts see da Vinci's self-portrait, or just portrait, as exhibiting this idea because he is believed to have had humanist values. Through showing a real, believable individual in the piece of art, da Vinci is showing the significance of the individual rather than having a subject much larger than an individual. The details of the wrinkles also show a realistic and normal human, which was part of humanism in showing one's true form. While this may somewhat contradict the philosopher representation above, it is another common perception on the significance of the portrait.
The Portrait Today
Unfortunately, the portrait has been fading, which makes sense considering it is around 500 years old. Researchers have discovered that the paper on which the portrait was drawn is made of linen and cotton fibres and hemp rags. Because of its exposure to sunlight and poor maintenance over the years, the paper has yellowed and therefore made the contrast with the red significantly reduced.
This phenomenon has made it seem as though the image is vanishing. It also has numerous reddish spots, called "foxing", which would not have been on the paper originally. While the artwork is held today in the collection of the Biblioteca Reale (Royal Library) in Turin, Italy, it is not actually on display for visitors to see, other than it's two-month exhibition in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification. Instead, it is kept in a temperature-and humidity-controlled vault where it has been since 1998 in hopes to protect and conserve it.
Thanks to modern science, researchers have had the chance to do some tests on the portrait to see if steps can be taken to restore it. This process began in 2012 when it was discovered that moist environments and cold, dank spaces were the likely culprit for the image's apparent disappearance. Therefore, the artwork was changed to better conditions to see whether the fading continues or stabilizes.
Recently, in late 2015, more discoveries were made as to what is happening to the painting. In a study lead by Guadalupe Pinar at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria, it was found that both chemical and biological reactions cause the fading of the portrait. It was found that fungus was able to grow on the paper due to damage from dust-borne iron particles which created areas of damage on the paper in which the fungus grew over centuries. Now that more is understood, the portrait can hopefully be conserved to last at least another 500 years, if not longer.
While it is unlikely the legacy of Leonardo da Vinci will ever fade, it is important that the evidence is conserved. Da Vinci has had an immense influence in many fields and modern adaptations of his life and influence garner much attention. While this portrait is only one part of the history of Leonardo da Vinci, it is important to conserve it because it is believed to be the only real self-portrait he created. While the mystery can never truly be solved as to who the subject is, it adds to the magic and intrigue of the phenomenon that is Leonardo da Vinci.