Tuesday, October 12, 2010
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.