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  • Lost Michelangelo Painting Found?
    09.03.2006 By Rossella LORENZI, Discovery News

    The fresco, attributed to Michelangelo, was discovered behind an altar in a village church in Chianti, Italy.

    A lost Michelangelo might have inhabited for centuries the walls of a village church in the Tuscan countryside, according to evidence found after the confession of an elderly parishioner.

    The fresco, above the altar of the church of Santa Maria in Marcialla, some 45 km south of Florence, represents a "Pieta," or lamentation of the dead Christ.

    The inhabitants of the Chianti village have long claimed that the artwork was painted by Michelangelo in his youth. The claim was supported in the 1940 by the scholar Roberto Weiss, who attributed the Pieta to the Renaissance master.

    However, the first visible evidence for the legend was found only recently, when a parishioner in his 60s confessed to the priest Father Rosario Palumbo that he had spotted a signature while scampering around behind the altar when he was a boy.

    The confession prompted Father Palumbo to look behind a removable section of the altar wall. As the stone slab was lifted, a signature with the letters M, B and F intertwined appeared.

    "It is a uniquely styled monogram signature. It could either stand for Michelangelus Buonarrotus Facibat (Michelangelo Buonarroti made this) or Michelangelo Buonarroti Florentine," Robert Schoen, an American sculptor and Michelangelo scholar, told Discovery News.

    Schoen, who found a lost Cupid by Michelangelo in New York in 1984, has been studying the Marcialla fresco for four years. He will report his findings in the American art journal Source.

    According to Schoen, the fresco's monogram signature features similarities of style and form to other early examples of Michelangelo's block lettering, such as the carved signature on the Roman Pieta, the lettering on the Sistine Chapel lunettes and above a crucifix attributed to the artist in the church of Santo Spirito in Florence.

    After searching the Archivio Buonarroti in Florence, Schoen found one autographed Michelangelo drawing which he believes was a preliminary study for the Bad Thief figure who flanks the dead Christ in the fresco.

    "The Marcialla Pieta is critical to understanding Michelangelo's development as an artist, because its inclusion of the Two Thieves, depicted holding their crosses and converted into saints through their proximity to Christ, perfectly demonstrates his ambitious nature and originality of thought," Schoen said.

    Michelangelo would have painted the fresco after the fall of the Medicis in January 1494. A Medici protege, the artist was forced to flee Florence.

    According to local tradition, he went into hiding in Marcialla, under the hospitality of the Augustinian order of monks.

    According to Lynn Catterson, art historian at New York's Columbia University, the claim "is extremely interesting."

    "I haven't seen the fresco in person, and actually, not even in good reproduction. But on the basis of style, it would seem to date around 1520. Certainly, it is not in the style of Michelangelo's earlier works, Sistina included," Lynn Catterson told Discovery News.

    Schoen is convinced Michelangelo created the Marcialla fresco after his return from Bologna in December 1495, inspired by Giotto's Deposition fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel.

    He would have freely adapted the central elements of Giotto's composition and executed it in a pseudo-Trecento style.

    "This explains why the Marcialla fresco does not resemble his more famous classical inspired imagery found on the Sistine Vault. Just as Michelangelo copied the style of the ancient Greeks in his sculpture, he also emulated Giotto, Donatello and other masters of the Trecento in the period prior to his departure to Rome in 1496," Schoen said.