Bible Review 4:6, December 1988

Two Master Portraits of Isaiah

By Zefira Gitay

Two masterful portraits of the prophet Isaiah were painted in Rome at the beginning of the 16th century. The first, by Michelangelo (see below), was painted on the Sistine chapel ceiling between 1500 and 1510.1 The second, by Raphael (see front cover), was painted in the Church of Saint Agostino barely two years after Michelangelo completed his Isaiah at the Vatican (1512–13). Created so closely in time and place, the two portraits are clearly related. Yet they reflect quite independent visions. What kind of portraits did each artist create?

An artist would search the Bible in vain for any hint of Isaiah’s specific physical features. Isaiah’s prophecies provide a few details about his family—his wife (8:3) and children (7:3, 14; 8:3, 18)—but none about his own image. Thus, every artist who wishes to paint a picture of a biblical figure who, like Isaiah, is not physically described, must rely on his own personal style to combine reality and imagination to produce a unique creation.

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