Hidden Michelangelo drawing goes on show in Rome

A newly-discovered drawing by Renaissance master Michelangelo, found during the restoration of his "Sacrifice of Isaac", is to go on show in Rome, along with another drawing found by restorers 30 years ago.

Hidden Michelangelo drawing goes on show in Rome
The new drawing was discovered during restoration of the "Sacrifice of Isaac" seen here on display in France in 2012. Photo: Sylvain Thomas/AFP

“The discovery of this drawing is a really lovely story,” Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said Friday as he unveiled the exhibition in the capital, which runs from Saturday until May 7.

Restorers painstakingly working last year on the “Sacrifice of Isaac”, a biblical drawing executed in black pencil by the Florentine artist in 1530, found a hidden sketch for the same scene on the back.

“Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, (works of art done on) old sheets of paper were protected by sticking a piece of cardboard on the back,” said Pina Ragionieri, head of the Casa Buonarroti foundation.

It was when restorers removed the cardboard that they discovered the secret sketch by the Italian sculptor, painter and architect who was famed perhaps above all for his frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

Ragionieri said the artist had made an initial sketch on one side of the sheet, before tracing it on the other with a light red crayon and developing the drawing to include an angel reaching down from heaven to stay Abraham's hand as he prepares to sacrifice his son.

The discovery followed a similar case in 1988 when restorers found a sketch on the back of the 1535 “Cleopatra”, one of the artist's most beloved drawings, which Michelangelo made for his lover Tommaso dei Cavalieri.

While the Egyptian ruler celebrated for her beauty and love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony looks regal in the 1535 drawing, the version in the sketch on the back is somewhat grotesque and some experts believe it was Cavalieri that drew it.

In 1562, the Roman nobleman was constrained to donate the drawing to Duke Cosimo de' Medici, saying in the accompanying letter that losing it pained him as much as losing a child.

SEE ALSO: IN PICS: Michelangelo sculpture comes home to Florence after massive restoration project


Secret Michelangelo room in Florence to open to public

For the first time, visitors will be able to enter a hidden cell in the Medici Chapels where Michelangelo is thought to have covered the walls with sketches.

Secret Michelangelo room in Florence to open to public
Drawings believed to be by Michelangelo in the Medici Chapels' secret room. Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP.

Until some 40 years ago, no one realized that it existed. And when curators discovered a secret room beneath the Medici Chapels in the Basilico di San Lorenzo in Florence, its walls covered in what appeared to be unknown sketches by the Renaissance master Michelangelo, they ordered it sealed to the public for conservation.

But the secret Michelangelo room could soon be permanently opened to visitors for the first time in history.

Florence’s Bargello museum, which also runs the Medici Chapels, wants to open the long-lost chamber to the public by 2020, Ansa reports.

Until now, only a few art experts – and the occasional lucky guest – have been permitted to enter the narrow cell, where historians believe that Michelangelo hid out in 1530 after he betrayed his patrons, the Medicis, by joining a revolt against their rule of Florence.

He resurfaced around two months later, when he was permitted to resume work on the Medici family’s monuments in the same chapel beneath which he had been hiding.

The artist, then 55, is thought to have spent the time doodling. The chamber’s walls are covered with sketches in charcoal and chalk, several of which resemble figures from Michelangelo’s other known works.

Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP.

Scholars disagree on whether, which and how many of the drawings are by Michelangelo. Some don’t seem good enough to have come from the master’s hand, while others echo such masterpieces as the statue of David, a drawing of Leda and the Swan, or parts of the Sistine Chapel.

The sketches were rediscovered in November 1975, when the director of the Medici Chapels museum at the time, Paolo Dal Poggetto, was trying to find a new route for visitors to exit. He found a trapdoor hidden beneath a wardrobe in the Medicis’ tomb room, which led down to a rectangular room that at the time was used to store coal.

Dal Poggetto had the chamber cleared, the walls – by then covered in coal dust, mould and mud – cleaned and the plaster removed fraction by fraction with scalpels. Gradually not only drawings but calculations, words and graffiti began to emerge.

Considered too fragile to open to visitors, the room remained sealed. In 2014, to mark the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s death, the museum created a virtual tour of the hidden chamber so that the public could at least admire it on a screen.

Opening the Michelangelo room comes as part of a plan by the Bargello’s director, Paola D’Agostino, to carry out renovations, reopen closed galleries and extend opening hours. 

Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP.