The mystery of the young man’s head at the Villa Farnesina

February 8, 2023
The mystery of the young man’s head at the Villa Farnesina

Do you want to know more on the mystery of the young man’s head depicted in the famous Villa Farnesina? Are you curious to know the story behind this wonderful work of art? Villa Farnesina is a treasure of colour and beauty, a 16th century villa which also hides a small secret. Come to Rome and take one of our wonderful Tours. We’ll tell you all about the mystery of the young man’s head depicted in the Sala Galatea in Villa Farnesina.

The young man’s head

As you enter the Sala di Galatea, where Raphael’s elegant and stupendous fresco depicting the life of the nymph Galatea, on one of the walls, you will notice this head of a young man painted in charcoal. It is a finished and perfect picture in its form, despite being barely sketched. The author? This is the mystery…

Young man's head at Villa Farnesina

Young man’s head at Villa Farnesina

The mystery behind this charcoal drawing

According to tradition, the author is none other than Michelangelo! Legend has it that Raphael, already famous and working in the Vatican Loggias, used to cover his paintings in the course of work, so as not to reveal his work to anyone.

An artist’s quirk, which aroused the curiosity, and perhaps the jealousy, of Michelangelo. He had received news of a new masterpiece painted by Raphael at Villa Farnesina (villa Chigi at the time). The genius managed to evade surveillance by dressing as a merchant. Distracting the guards, it seems that for a few seconds he managed to peek behind the sheets covering Raphael’s frescoes.

Impressed by the skill of the young master of Urbino, he took some charcoal and, climbing onto some supports, simply freehand drew this head. Something unique and exceptional, which left everyone astonished. All were shocked except Raphael. He immediately realised that only a genius like his rival could have done something like this.  Hence he decided, in sign of respect to his rival, to leave it exactly where it was and he ordered it was not to be erased.


Let us say that only one thing is certain: the head is of magnificent workmanship. A jewel worthy of the greatest masters. Could the head be by Michelangelo? From the point of view of style and virtuosity, it could be possible. Unfortunately, we do not know this as a fact… We don’t know and may never know. We’ll leave this romantic legend as it is…