Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Great Artists Never Die

This has been an incredible week in the Art world. A painting which is almost certainly a lost Michelangelo has been found in Buffalo, NY. The painting, called "The Mike" by the family which owns it, was knocked off its peg by a tennis ball-wielding child in the mid-70's, so it was wrapped and stuffed behind the living room sofa. It has been there ever since. Martin Kober, a retired pilot, claims to have had no idea the painting, which he inherited from his great grandfather, was valuable.

The unfinished painting of Mary and Jesus may be the art find of the century. It is part of a series of Pieta paintings done by the great master, and Antonio Forcellino, an Italian art restorer and historian specializing in Michelangelo, believes it is authentic. He says it is even more beautiful than others hanging in Italian museums. When contacted by Kober, he assumed it would turn out to be a copy, but a scientific analysis of the painting proved that it is probably the real thing. Infrared and X-ray examinations of the painting -- on a 25-by- 19-inch wood panel -- show many alterations made by the artist as he changed his mind, with an unfinished portion near the Madonna's right knee.

"The evidence of unfinished portions demonstrate that this painting never, never, never could be a copy of another painting," said Forcellino. "No patron pays in the Renaissance for an unfinished copy." He added, "The first time I saw it, I was so struck by the strength of it that I felt breathless. Only a genius could have painted this; the darkness which underscores the suffering, the Virgin who looks as if she's screaming and the figure of Christ after he has been deposed from the cross. It's small, but the technique is extraordinary."

The ownership history shows a long and tangled path to that upstate NY living room. The work was done by Michelangelo around 1545 for his friend Vittoria Colonna, 45 years after he did his famed "Pieta," or pity, sculpture of Mary holding Jesus, housed in St. Peter's Basilica. The painting was given to two Catholic cardinals, and then to a German baroness named Villani who willed it to her lady-in-waiting, Gertrude Young. Ms. Young was the sister-in-law of Kober’s great-grandfather and she sent the work to America in 1883. It has been in the Kober family ever since. It is now stored in a bank vault, and will be restored and exhibited in Italian museums next year. It is probably worth about $300 million.

What a magnificent gift to the 21st Century this is! In Art there is hope, perhaps even the reason for our human existence. The key to our redemption. You would think that such an object of reverence would emit a radiance which could be seen and felt for miles around, like the Star of Bethlehem.


secret agent woman said...

There is a book by Geraldine Brooks called "People of the Book" that you might really enjoy. It's a fictionalized account of a true story - a rare illustrated Haggadah discovered in Sarajevo. She traces the possible travels, rooted in history, and the drive to protect art.

Jo said...

Omigoodness, Susan, this is incredible news. I didn't hear about this. I am going to Google it. And yes, this looks like a real Michelangelo, and probably the best thing that could have happened to it was that it was stuffed behind a chesterfield. That probably kept it clean and in pristine condition.

"In Art there is hope, perhaps even the reason for our human existence. The key to our redemption." That is so beautiful, and so true...! Art is the most graceful way the human race can leave it imprint for future generations. Well, art and music.

Cloudia said...

I love treasure stories...

esp true ones.

How amazing!

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

Molly said...

Fantastic story, Hearts! I hadn't heard this one either. A message to us in the 21st. century, maybe.

nick said...

I wouldn't go quite as far as to say art is the reason for our human existence, but certainly it has a quality of transcendence which lifts us above the petty squabbles of daily life. Remarkable that this painting sat behind a sofa for so many years with nobody having a clue of its real value, artistic or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story of a rediscovered treasure. Damn, that never happens to me. My family had a Japanese watercolor (ostensibly) that my mother asserted was terribly valuable. After she died I had it appraised. Turned out it was a dime-a-dozen knockoff and worth about 11-cents. Sigh.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

*Rejoices in sublime happiness!*

TechnoBabe said...

A true story like this one gives me faith in the human race amid all the hate and violence and negativity. I don't want to hide my head in the sand but it sure helps to have blessings for the world occasionally.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I hadn't heard of that book -- it sounds fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation!


The appraiser was worried about the effects of heating in a normal middle-class home, but apparently it is in very good condition.

I was actually referring to all the arts, not just painting, because I think that we are at our highest when creating works of art.


Isn't it an amazing story?


It makes me wonder how many other undiscovered treasures are hidden in plain sight around the world.


Well, I suppose procreation is our basic reason to be, but rebel against thinking of us as mere biological necessities.

I wonder how this family, which knew it was a Michelangelo since they referred to it as "The Mike," could have failed to grasp its importance, and its value.


I'm sure it was a very pretty Japanese watercolor copy, though. Perhaps it had intrinsic value to your mother because she loved it.


Glad I could help.


Isn't it wonderful when something like this shows up in the news among all the other stuff?

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for posting this. The story had escaped me until now, but it sure is a fascinating one. It shows how many "experts" can be wrong. I distrust them all!

Maria said...

My house was built in 1918. WHY can't i find any long lost treasures in it? I want to be re-doing my bathroom and find thousands of dollars stuck in a wall somewhere. I want to find a famous guy's painting in my crawl space. All we ever found was a paper bag with a pair of men's underpants and a kitchen knife in it.

I shit you not.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It turns out the family had tried since the 1940's to get recognition for their painting. I guess it just wasn't the right time yet.


I remember your post about those items found in your basement -- we all speculated as to what it all meant, especially the knife.