In a discovery that has created waves in the art world, a team of experts led by the University of Cambridge has announced the ‘discovery’ of two bronze sculptures by iconic Italian sculptor Michelangelo, based on a detail in a 500-year-old drawing.
The two bronzes show naked, muscular men riding triumphantly on two ferocious panthers.
The team of international experts led by Cambridge and Fitzwilliam Museum has gathered compelling evidence that argues that these masterpieces, which have spent over a century in relative obscurity, are early works by Michelangelo, made just after he completed the marble David and as he was about to embark on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
If the attribution is correct, they are the only surviving Michelangelo bronzes in the world, the university said on Monday. Final conclusion will be announced in July.
Admired for the beauty of their anatomy and powerful expressions, their first recorded attribution was to Michelangelo when they appeared in Adolphe de Rothschild’s collection in the 19th century.
But, since they are undocumented and unsigned, this attribution was dismissed and over the last 120 years, the bronzes have been attributed to various other talented sculptors, the release said.
That changed last autumn when Paul Joannides, Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Cambridge, connected them to a drawing by one of Michelangelo’s apprentices now in the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France.
In one corner is a composition of a muscular youth riding a panther and drawn in the abrupt, forceful manner that Michelangelo employed in designs for sculpture. This suggests that Michelangelo was working up this very unusual theme for a work in three dimensions.
It is a common misconception that Michelangelo sculpted almost exclusively in marble and never in bronze. However, it is historically verifiable that he was associated with bronze throughout his career. The university said Michelangelo is documented as having made a two-thirds life-size David and an over twice life-size statue of Pope Julius II. Sadly neither survives.