NEW YORK – The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City has unearthed an unsigned drawing by the Italian renaissance sculptor, painter, draftsman, architect and poet Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564).
Scholars in the field have unanimously verified the authenticity of this rare find.
The work, one of the few by Michelangelo known to reside in public or private collections in the United States, measures 171/16 by 10 inches and is drawn using black chalk, brush and brown wash with incised line, on cream laid paper.
Making the discovery all the more remarkable is the pristine condition of this artifact, dating back nearly five centuries.
The find. The discovery was made in April by Sir Timothy Clifford, director of the National Galleries of Scotland, during a sabbatical visit to the Cooper-Hewitt.
A specialist in Italian decorative arts, Clifford accepted an invitation from Cooper-Hewitt Director Paul Warwick Thompson to view the museum’s Italian drawings, which range from the Renaissance through the present.
The last known discovery in the United States of a Michelangelo drawing was in 1976, when a work within the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection (purchased in 1962) was attributed to the great master.
Art dealer Richard Feigen estimates that the Cooper-Hewitt object is valued at $10 million-$12 million, based upon prior sales of other Michelangelo drawings, the most recent of which sold at Christie’s for $12 million.
Lumped in a box. The work was spotted by Clifford while sifting through a box containing light fixture designs by unknown artists. His analysis of the drawing indicated a distinctive style, and the use of idiosyncratic terminology, that favored one artist in particular – Michelangelo.
Clifford believes the drawing relates to the Medici tombs project.
Earlier theories. Michelangelo did not execute many drawings of decorative art objects. Consequently, museum scholars had previously hypothesized that this Cooper-Hewitt work was the inspired creation of Perino del Vaga (1501-1547), an Italian Renaissance artist known for his designs and prolific drawings of decorative objects.
Verification. Extensive research was performed by Italian Renaissance art scholars, both domestically and abroad, to verify the authenticity of the work.
The drawing’s former provenance is from a 1921 sale at Sotheby’s of London from the collection of Lord Amherst of Hackney. In 1942 the museum purchased the still anonymous masterpiece, simply identified as “Italian, circa 1530-1540.”
The Michelangelo was purchased within a group of five goldsmith drawings for $60.
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