Clue in Drawing May Prove Big Michelangelo Discovery

Indicates 2 bronzes are only such surviving sculptures by artist
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 2, 2015 8:37 AM CST
Clue in Drawing May Prove Big Michelangelo Discovery
Detail of 'Nude bacchants riding panthers.'   (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

Two sculptures of nude men—one young, one older—atop "ferocious" panthers might seem attention-grabbing of their own accord, but the pair are generating buzz for another reason entirely: "Compelling evidence" indicates they were crafted by Michelangelo, according to a press release from Cambridge University. If that's the case, they'd mark the only surviving bronzes by the artist, and as the Guardian puts it, "In art history terms, the attribution is sensational." The unsigned, undocumented sculptures had actually previously been attached to Michelangelo, but the 19th-century theory was subsequently brushed aside, with Dutch artist Willem Danielsz Van Tetrode most recently awarded attribution, reports the BBC. But a drawing from circa 1508 proved the vital clue, say the team of experts behind the announcement.

Cambridge Prof. Paul Joannides last fall noted a muscular male atop a panther "drawn in the abrupt, forceful manner that Michelangelo employed in designs for sculpture" in a drawing by one of Michelangelo's apprentices found in France's Musee Fabre; the sheet is described as a "faithful copy of various slightly earlier lost sketches by Michelangelo." The supporting evidence that was then assembled: It was verified that Michelangelo twice sculpted in bronze, though neither of the verified works exist today; anatomists who participated determined the sculptures' anatomy was similar to works he completed between 1500 and 1510; and a neutron scan dated the bronzes to that same range. The experts believe a 30-something Michelangelo sculpted them between 1506 and 1508, between his completion of the David and his beginning work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. (Meanwhile, his David has a problem.)

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