Miguel de Cervantes is widely held as the greatest Spanish writer and true literary legend who contributed greatly to the development of prose writing as we know it today, yet his true identity has been a subject in danger of being permanently erased from the annals of history.
While there has been a wide range of inquiries seeking to unravel Cervantes’ true physical identity, the only thing close enough to recovering it is found in the prologue of the Exemplary Novels where he offered a textual description of himself.
Prologuized Description of Miguel de Cervantes
This man you see here, with aquiline face, chestnut hair, smooth, unwrinkled brow, joyful eyes and curved though well-proportioned nose…of middling height, neither tall nor short, fresh-faced, rather fair than dark; somewhat stooping and none too light on his feet…
This is an excerpt from one of Cervantes’ popular works titled the Exemplary Novels. Cervantes wrote the prologue himself however barely, noting he almost didn’t write it because his last prologue wasn’t such a huge success.
Still, we’re all glad that he eventually penned that one down as they now serve a greater purpose of being perhaps the only real picture of him we will ever know, get to see, or read. Two of Cervantes’ strong qualities were at play here, and one also gets to see him show them repeatedly in his work. First is his ability to visualize and second is the depths of his imagination; reaching well beyond the average person’s.
We see these first hand with his character ‘Don Quixote‘ who can fairly be taken as an extension of himself, having the talent to dig deep into the imagination and give life to an unexpected, unthinkable reality.
It’s not entirely clear how it came to be that Cervantes, or any of his contemporaries, or relatives, didn’t have any of his portraits, pictures, or drawings preserved, especially when such arts were thriving well then. Still, they could have existed but maybe lost through wars and battles and changes in civilizations and transitioning through time.
Portraits of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
There’s a catalog of portraits that exist to mirror the physical identity and likeness of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, however, non has shown nearly a good degree in terms of accuracy like the one made by Juan de Jauregui, a reputable painter at the time.
Cervantes knew exactly what he was doing when he etched those inscriptions as part of the preface of the Exemplary Novel back in 1613. He also stated he would prefer Jauregui was the one who got the privilege of painting his mere words into his actual appearance as you can see in the excerpt below;
Who could well have engraved my portrait on the title-page of this book, as is the custom, since the celebrated Juan de Jáuregui had given him my likeness… this man who dares to display his inventions and submit them to public gaze in the market-place of the world.
Fragments of Cervantes’ Lost Identity
Juan de Jauregui’s painting of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra came out impressive and is still in today’s world regarded as the closest picture to Cervantes than a thousand other portraits out there.
Through the work, Jauregui not only lived by his reputation as being the best painter of the era but will have also justified Cervantes’ conviction to have favored him, over others, for the job.
Still, between Cervantes’ near-perfect textual description of himself and the artistic execution of Jauregui to animate Cervantes’ physical personality, there is an existence of some eroded features which the real Cervantes might have possessed. And these fragments – washed away by the time more than four hundred years ago – will always be the unravelable discrepancies that stand in the way of knowing the true appearance of the iconic Spanish writer.
Who painted the portrait of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra?
Juan de Jauregui was the artist who successfully painted the portrait of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, following exactly why the writer described himself in the prologue of the Exemplary Novels.
Why was Cervantes’ left arm paralyzed?
In 1571, during the epic battle of Lepanto, Cervantes was lucky to have survived but didn’t leave the battlefield the same as he sustained a series of life-threatening wounds two in his chest and one completely maiming his left arm.
Are there any living relatives of Cervantes?
Cervantes’ direct descendants are lost, however, the writer did have a daughter Isabel while he was married in Spain, and a son Promontorio in Italy who decided against using the writer’s name or surname to favor his mother’s.