ROME (Reuters) - Former premier Silvio Berlusconi, famed for his face lifts and hair implants, has opted for a sharp image change in reaction to the rise of younger rival Matteo Renzi, agreeing to be shown wrinkled and without make-up by a UK newspaper on Sunday.
The Sunday Times carried a portrait of 77-year-old centre-right leader entitled "Silvio Berlusconi after the fall" by photographer Paul Stuart on the front page of its colour supplement.
Major Italian newspapers reproduced the Sunday Times cover.
"Il Cavaliere proud of his age", said Il Giornale, a paper owned by Berlusconi's family, using the widely-used nickname for the media billionaire who was decorated with the title "Cavaliere del Lavoro" for his services to industry in 1977.
"He has taken off the mask because masks are not needed any more. Because now the enemy is not the same and the same makeup is not needed," it said.
Other Italian newspapers minutely dissected the portrait and concluded that the rise of Renzi, the 39-year-old mayor of Florence who has shaken up Italian politics since winning the leadership of the centre-left Democratic Party, had persuaded Berlusconi to make a virtue of his own age.
Banned from parliament over a conviction for tax fraud and facing other legal battles, Berlusconi reached a deal over reforms to the electoral system with Renzi this month and has repeatedly expressed his admiration for his young rival, whose mastery of communications in some way matches his own.
During two decades in politics, Berlusconi, generally acknowledged as a master of television and media, has traded on an image of dynamism and energy which has been in no way affected by repeated and unashamed cosmetic surgery intended to preserve a youthful appearance.
The Corriere della Sera said he had decided Renzi's arrival meant he could no longer continue to use the same strategy used to vanquish his old middle-aged centre-left rivals like Romano Prodi, Massimo D'Alema or Walter Veltroni.
"Renzi isn't just young, he's younger than I am. I'm older and more true and I'm not afraid of showing myself like this," it quoted him as saying.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Sophie Hares)