Cambridge University team discovers possible Michelangelo bronzes

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It’s a discovery that is reverberating throughout the art world – a University of Cambridge-led research team believes that they have discovered the only surviving Michelangelo bronze statues. Last fall, Paul Joannides, emeritus professor of art history at Cambridge, traced two three feet-high bronze male nude figures to a drawing by a Michelangelo apprentice that resides at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France, according to a Cambridge press release.

The non-matching figures — one is an older male, the other younger, but both are depicted riding a panther — were initially credited to Michelangelo when they were featured as part of Adolphe de Rothschild’s 19th century collection. Since the figures were undocumented, historians dismissed this attribution. Joannides found a student’s 16th century sketch sheet filled with copies of early Michelangelo works. One of the sketches depicts a young athletic male figure riding a panther, which mirrors the pose of the statues. The sketch is drawn in the same style that Michelangelo used when creating designs for his sculptures.

“It has been fantastically exciting to have been able to participate in this ground-breaking project” Victoria Avery, keeper of the applied arts department of Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum, said in the release. The project “involved input from many art historians in the U.K., Europe and the States, and to draw on evidence from conservation scientists and anatomists.”

The international research team behind the project compared the two statues to other Michelangelo pieces, tracing similarities to some of the artist’s work that stretched from 1500 to 1510. More testing is being done, and the team plans to release their findings at an international conference on July 6, 2015.

The bronze statues and some evidence from the research team are currently being displayed at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Italian galleries until August.

“The bronzes are exceptionally powerful and compelling works of art that deserve close-up study,” Avery said.