The Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo is most famous for his iconic statue of David and the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Unlike many artists, his genius was recognised by his contemporaries in his lifetime, and he has left behind an unsurpassed array of artistic achievements.
Now, The Times newspaper reports that previously unseen sketches by the artist will go on display to the public for the first time. The large-scale drawings are primarily of the human figure, and include a sketch of Leda and the Swan, which was previously a Michelangelo painting that was lost, with only prints and copies surviving.
The discovery was made in the so-called Secret Room in Florence, a small chamber underneath the Medici Chapels where the artist spent two months hiding out, following a fallout with the powerful Medici family and subsequent death warrant that was issued by Pope Clement VII.
The charcoal and chalk drawings were made on the walls of the chamber, which is accessed by a trapdoor that was hidden underneath a wardrobe. The sketches were first discovered when the walls of the chamber were stripped in 1955, but they have never been displayed to the public before.
The director general of museums in Italy, Massimo Osanna, stated, “The completion of the works on the new exit and the adaptations to align the Museum of the Medici Chapels with safety regulations enable the opening of Michelangelo’s Secret Room..”
“..an extraordinarily fascinating place that’s extremely delicate due to the location of the narrow space in the museum and the need to protect the charcoal drawings found on the walls.”
Director of the Bargello museums, Paola D’Agostino, commented, “It was time-consuming, constant and painstaking work, involving various professionals, and I wish to thank all the staff of the Bargello Museums that worked with me over these years to achieve this goal.”
D’Agostino added: “When the room was found, two layers of plaster were stripped off the walls and these extraordinary sketches emerged. Even though I have been in the room so many times, I am still amazed by this mesmerising set of drawings.”
Great pains have been taken to safely prepare the chamber for public visitors. Access to the rooms will be limited to four people at a time to preserve the space and the condition of the artworks. The amount and light exposure and temperature and humidity need to be carefully controlled to ensure that the sketches do not deteriorate.
Access to the room is via a narrow stairway, so it is unsuitable for young children and those with mobility difficulties. Flash photography is not permitted and visitors are requested to converse quietly in order to preserve the atmosphere of the space. Tickets must be purchased in advance for a 15-minute time slot.