An art historian claims to have discovered a Michelangelo red chalk drawing which could be a preparatory piece for part of the ceiling fresco of the Sistine Chapel (1508-12) in the Vatican.
Paul Joannides, emeritus professor of art history at the University of Cambridge, is due to publish his research in The Burlington Magazine which links the drawing of a nude man, viewed from behind, to one of the figures battling serpents on the Worship of the Brazen Serpent section of the ceiling. The Art Newspaper understands that other experts in the field are still waiting to see the drawing themselves before making an assessment.
Joannides told The Observer newspaper: “For an artist of Michelangelo’s greatness, and greatness as a draughtsman, any new discovery has some level of excitement. But this is a drawing by Michelangelo for one of the greatest masterpieces of western art.” He explains how the work shows the male figure from a different angle but aligns with the ceiling painting when it is rotated 90 degrees clockwise.
The Observer report says that the drawing surfaced after its owner, an anonymous European collector, sent Joannides a photograph through an intermediary. The work had been purchased privately in 2014, when it had a tentative attribution to Rosso Fiorentino, a 16th-century follower of Michelangelo. Collectors’ marks such as “JCR”, referring to the 19th-century connoisseur and painter Sir John Charles Robinson, are inscribed on the piece.
Other important comparative red chalk studies relating to Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel are in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. “The principal study is for the figure of a boy who points towards the Libyan Sibyl, and the other is for the Sibyl’s right hand holding an open book,” the museum website says.