Michelangelo bronzes discovered (True or not)
|Victoria Avery of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, said the project to attribute the bronzes, involving a team of experts from different fields, had been like a Renaissance whodunnit. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA|
By Mark Brown
Two handsome, virile naked men riding triumphantly on ferocious panthers will on Monday be unveiled as, probably, the only surviving bronze sculptures by the Renaissance giant Michelangelo.
In art history terms, the attribution is sensational. Academics in Cambridge will suggest that a pair of mysterious metre-high sculptures known as the Rothschild Bronzes are by the master himself, made just after he completed David and as he was about to embark on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
If correct, they are the only surviving Michelangelo bronzes in the world.
They will go on public display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge from Tuesday. Victoria Avery, keeper of applied arts at the museum, said the attribution project, involving an international team of experts from different fields, had been like “a Renaissance whodunnit”. She said: “It has been a huge privilege to be involved, very exciting and great fun.”
Crucial to the attribution of the bronzes, which belong to a private British owner, has been a tiny detail from a drawing by an apprentice of Michelangelo, now in the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France. The drawing shows in one corner a muscular youth riding a panther in
Last autumn, Paul Joannides, professor of art history at Cambridge University, connected the sculptures to the drawing.Further research included a neutron scan at a research institute in Switzerland, which placed the bronzes in the first decade of the 16th century. Investigations by clinical anatomist Professor Peter Abrahams, from the University of Warwick, suggested every detail in the bronzes was textbook perfect Michelangelo – from the six packs to the belly buttons, which are as artist portrayed them on his marble statue of David.
“Even a peroneal tendon is visible, as is the transverse arch of the foot,” Abrahams writes in the book that accompanies the discovery.
Avery said: “Whoever made them clearly had a profound interest in the male body … the anatomy is perfect.”
The pictorial evidence is also compelling, with Michelangelo’s nudes on the Sistine Chapel being clearly similar to the Rothschild Bronzes.
The bronzes were initially attributed to Michelangelo, but the link was discredited in the late 19th century. Since then they have been ascribed to various great sculptors and their circles, including Tiziano Aspetti, Jacopo Sansovino and Benvenuto Cellini – all of them great artists.
“They are clearly masterpieces,” said Avery. “The modelling is superb, they are so powerful and so compelling, so whoever made them had to be superb.”
She said they had deliberately proceeded with caution during the attribution project.
“You have to be pretty brave to even contemplate that they could be work by an artist of the magnificence and fame and importance of Michelangelo. We decided to be rather cautious, to be very careful and methodical … nobody wants to be shot down and to look like an idiot.”
They are now as convinced as they can be that the bronzes were made by Michelangelo between 1506 and 1508, when he was in his early 30s, hungry for success.
The history of the sculptures is as fascinating as they are beautiful. They are named after their first recorded owner, Baron Adolphe de Rothschild, a grandson of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, who founded the banking dynasty. It is possible that Rothschild bought them from one of the Bourbon kings of Naples and if so they may have come from the Villa Reale at Caserta where the Bourbon art treasures were displayed. After Rothschild’s death in 1900 the bronzes were inherited by Maurice de Rothschild. When he died in 1957 they went into a private French collection and were effectively forgotten about until they came to auction in 2002 and were bought by the current unnamed British owner.
They were sold at Sotheby’s where experts loosely associated them with the Florentine sculptor Cellini.
They began to interest academics once more and featured in an exhibition on Willem van Tetrode at the Frick Collection and then at the Royal Academy’s big Bronze show in 2012, where they were attributed to the circle of Michelangelo and dated towards the middle of the 16th century. Experts who saw them at the RA recognised them as Michelangelesque but were reluctant to assign them directly to the man himself.
The attribution is particular exciting because no other Michelangelo bronzes survive. A two-thirds size bronze David, known to have been made for a French grandee’s chateau, was lost during the French Revolution and a spectacular statue of Pope Julius II was melted down for artillery by rebellious Bolognese.
The bronzes will be on display at the Fitzwilliam from 3 February to 9 August, with a book of the discovery, and more findings and research will be presented at an international conference on 6 July.
Avery said she was keen for as many people as possible to see them and join the debate which she hoped would not just be for academics. “I really hope people will engage with this, that they will read the arguments – maybe sit down in a cafe for half an hour with the book – and then come and look at the bronzes and make their own mind up.”
MAYBE NOT ..............
Freshly Attributed Michelangelo Bronzes May Not Be Michelangelo's After All
German art historian Frank Zöllner expresses serious doubts over the legitimacy of the recently unveiled 'Rothschild Bronzes' attributed to Michelangelo (see Michelangelo's Only Surviving Bronzes Discovered). In an article published in the German daily Die Welt, the Michelangelo expert asserts that the attribution of the sculptures to Michelangelo is potentially "Flawed."
The three-foot-tall sculptures depicting a naked man riding on the back of a panther were unveiled at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England last week.
Zöllner explains that the total absence of historical documentation detailing Michelangelo's creation of the bronzes is highly problematic. Taking into account the extremely complex and expensive casting process, he argues that it is very unlikely that the artist would have been able to create the sculptures in his studio without leaving behind any documentation, and without assistance.
Moreover, the expert alleges that the Fitzwilliam Museum's authentication was based on a flawed visual and stylistic comparison made between the two sculptures, and a portfolio attributed to Michelangelo's studio which contains a number of sketches, including a small sketch of a naked man riding a panther. He labels this approach "a little tricky, especially with such an adventurous attribution."
Zöllner points out a series of crucial differences between the sketch and the statue including significant discrepancies between the size of the panther and the position of the man's torso. Additionally, he suggests it cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the sketch is in fact one of Michelangelo's design concepts.
He then goes on to criticize the "sensationalist" reaction to the news of the attribution of the sculptures to Michelangelo, "especially from the British press."
According to Zöllner, the only person to voice serious concerns over the attribution is Frits Scholten, Curator of Sculpture at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Scholten, who saw the bronzes at an exhibition in 2003 attributed the sculptures to the Dutch sculptor Willem Danielsz van Tetrode (1525-1588). Zöllner predicts, "this assessment will probably prevail and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge will suffer significant damage to its image."
The scholar points out that many chronically underfinanced museums are confronting increasing pressure to deliver sensationalist exhibitions to attract visitors. According to Zöllner announcing spectacular attributions is one very effective strategy to achieve this goal.
Zöllner's claim is not the first time this week that the attribution of a work to a giant of Florentine Renaissance was challenged. Only two days earlier, an Italian expert said to have allegedly authenticated a painting found in a Swiss vault as a Leonardo Da Vinci, denied he has ever drawn such conclusion. Carlo Pedretti, long-time director of the Leonardo center at the University of California, Los Angeles, claimed he was wrongfully cited in an article published by an Italian magazine in 2013 (see Scholar Denies Authenticating 'Lost Leonardo' Found in Swiss Vault).