For this self-portrait Hayez chose a panel with an unusual horizontal format and a rather peculiar angle of the image. The artist is not the centre of the scene but represented himself in a corner, looking quizzically at the viewer. He wears a smock and painter’s cap, like those we see in some portraits by Rembrandt.
The painting is almost entirely taken up by the cage with a lion and tiger. The subject of the wild creatures, read in the past as an allegory of art taming nature, was dear to the Romantic taste for Orientalism.
The work dates from the early 1830s, when the artist had moved from Venice to Milan.