Renaissance master Raphael did a nose-job in self-portrait, face reconstruction suggests

Above, a self portrait by Renaissance master Raphael during the unveiling of an exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of his death, in this screengrab taken from a video in Rome on March 4, 2020. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 11 August 2020

Renaissance master Raphael did a nose-job in self-portrait, face reconstruction suggests

  • Professor Mattia Falconi: ‘He certainly made his nose look more refined’
  • Raphael died in Rome in 1520 aged 37, and was buried in Rome’s Pantheon

ROME: Raphael probably didn’t like his nose, and replaced it with an idealized version in his famous self-portrait.
That is the conclusion of Rome University scientists who produced a 3D computer reconstruction of the Renaissance master’s face from a plaster cast of his presumed skull made in 1833.
In that year, the remains believed to be those of the man hailed by his contemporaries as “the divine one” because he sought perfection through his work were last exhumed.
“He certainly made his nose look more refined,” said Professor Mattia Falconi, a molecular biologist at the university’s Tor Vergata campus. “His nose was, let’s say, slightly more prominent.”
Raphael died in Rome in 1520 aged 37, probably from pneumonia, and was buried in Rome’s Pantheon.
The self-portrait, which normally hangs in Florence’s Uffizi gallery but is currently in Rome for an exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of his death, was done about 15 years earlier, when he was clean-shaven.
It features the more aquiline nose that Raphael also included in other works in which he painted himself.
The reconstruction is of the way he may have looked closer to his death, when he wore a beard.
Falconi, along with forensic anthropologists and other experts, reconstructed the face with tissue layering techniques used by crime investigators.
The result was a face similar to that of the master on an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi, one of his students.
“When we finished, I said to myself ‘I’ve seen that face before,’” Falconi, 57, said in a telephone interview.
Another similarity is with the subject of “Portrait of a Man,” painted between 1512 and 1515 by Sebastiano del Piombo, a Raphael contemporary and rival.
For centuries there has been speculation that the bones exhumed in 1833 and reburied in a re-styled crypt may not have been Raphael’s because some of his students were later buried near him.
But Falconi believes the research points to an around 85 percent chance that the skull is Raphael’s because of similarities with most of the artist’s face as depicted by him and his contemporaries.
Not everyone was pleased with Falconi’s research. An art critic for the Rome newspaper La Repubblica said it had produced a cheap “videogame version” of Raphael.
Falconi said he hoped the tomb can be opened again someday for direct tests on the skull. This could resolve several mysteries, including confirming what caused his death.


Tower of London ravens re-adapt to life after lockdown

Updated 19 October 2020

Tower of London ravens re-adapt to life after lockdown

  • The 1,000-year-old royal fortress was closed due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions
  • This raised fears the birds — known as the guardians of the Tower — would fly away to find another place

LONDON: Chris Skaife has one of the most important jobs in Britain. As Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, he is responsible for the country’s most famous birds.
According to legend firmly rooted in Britain’s collective imagination, if all the ravens were to leave the Tower, the kingdom would collapse and the country be plunged into chaos.
Coronavirus lockdown restrictions saw tourist attractions across the country close their doors, including the imposing 1,000-year-old royal fortress on the banks of the River Thames.
That left Skaife with an unprecedented challenge of how to entertain the celebrated avian residents, who suddenly found themselves with no one to play with — or rob food from.
It also raised fears the birds — known as the guardians of the Tower — would fly away to try to find tasty morsels elsewhere, and worse still, risk the legend coming to pass.
There are eight ravens in captivity in the Tower of London: Merlina, Poppy, Erin, Jubilee, Rocky, Harris, Gripp and George.
A royal decree, purportedly issued in the 17th century, stated there must be six on site at any one time but Skaife said he keeps two as “spares,” “just in case.”
They are free to roam the grounds but to prevent them from flying too far, their wings are trimmed back slightly.
Back in March when lockdown began, Skaife — who is in his 50s and a retired staff sergeant and former drum major in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment — was furloughed.
But he still came to work to look after his majestic feathered charges, rotating feeding and caring duties with his three assistants.
“During that period of time, the ravens didn’t actually see anybody,” he told AFP.
“There were slight changes that I noticed. For instance, I had to keep them occupied without the public being there (and) there were less things for them to do.
“So I gave them enrichment toys that would help them enjoy their day.”
With no people around, he put balloons, ladders and even mirrors in their cages to keep them entertained, and hid food around the Tower grounds for them to find.
Breakfast time involves Skaife, in the distinctive black and red uniform of the “Beefeaters,” distributing a meal of chicks and mice, which the ravens cheerfully devour.
Skaife’s favorite is Merlina, he reveals with a smile.
She has become an Internet favorite from his frequent posts and videos of her on his Instagram and Twitter accounts, which have more than 120,000 followers.
Once feeding time is over, he opens the cages on the south lawn to allow them to stretch their wings.
The Tower reopened its doors on July 10 but the pandemic has had a devastating effect on visitor numbers.
Some 60,000 people visited the Tower every week in October 2019 but it is now only 6,000, according to Historic Royal Palaces, which manages the site.
During the three-month national lockdown, Skaife said the ravens were given more freedom to explore other parts of the Tower.
But to be doubly sure they didn’t fly off completely, their wings were clipped back further.
The birds are now kept in their cages more often to make sure they eat enough, as there are slim pickings from the Tower’s rubbish bins because of the reduced footfall.
“I don’t particularly like doing it,” said Skaife.
He says the ravens may be kept in cages but the Tower is their real home.
“So, I would never want to keep a raven in an enclosure.”
Now, as life returns to a semblance of normality, the ravens are re-adapting to seeing more humans again and their old routine.
Skaife has looked after the ravens for the last 14 years, tending to their needs out of clear affection but also out of a sense of historic and patriotic duty.
“Of course, we don’t want the legend to come true,” he said.