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Sixteenth-century crucifix possibly by Michelangelo

A recently donated wooden crucifix tentatively attributed to Michelangelo has sparked controversy in the art world.

Sixteenth-century crucifix possibly by Michelangelo
The crucifix attributed to Michelangelo [Credit: ANSA]
The 44-centimeter wooden sculpture portrays Christ on the cross and was created by a Florentine Renaissance artist, possibly the great Michelangelo Buonarroti himself. The work was donated to Paris's Louvre museum by Canadian collectors Peter Silverman and Kathleen Onorato, who also own 'Portrait of a Young Fiancee', a colored chalk and ink drawing recently attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. 

The donors purchased the crucifix in 1985 in Germany for 5,000 Deutschmarks from an antiquarian who said it was the work of an anonymous German from the seventeenth century. Following the results of scientific analysis and historians' opinions, the French Museums Artistic Council has now approved its inclusion in the public collections.

'Christ en Croix' has thus made its way into the Louvre collections and will sit alongside two marble sculptures by the Tuscan maestro, 'Dying Slave' and 'Rebel Slave'. Its description - 'Florentine artist from c.1500. Michelangelo?' - has, however, given rise to heated debate among specialists concerning its attribution. 

''The Louvre has not attributed it to Michelangelo and has included a question mark because it is not certain,'' ANSA was told by the museum press office. ''The work will be placed in the 'Michelangelo gallery' because it is the hall of sixteenth-century Italian sculpture. Its name is in reference to the period, and there are works there other than Michelangelo's slave series.'' 

Sixteenth-century crucifix possibly by Michelangelo
The crucifix attributed to Michelangelo [Credit: ANSA]
Laboratory testing by the French Museums Research Centre (including a large number of photographs and eight micro-samples) and assessments by art historians confirmed that it was the work ''of a highly talented Florentine artist from around 1500''. 

Under a number of layers of paint and later touch-ups, the original colouring emerged, with pieces of glass characteristic of a specific technique used in the period. Carved out of a single piece of wood - most likely linden - are the head, beard, bust and legs, while the arms were added onto the body.

Certain parts such as the hair are ''undoubtedly'' made out of 'pastiglia' (a plaster and glue paste used to achieve greater detail) and vegetable fiber.

''The opinions of five specialists of sculpture from this historical period tasked with examining the crucifix in Paris diverge: two support the hypothesis that it was made by Michelangelo while two others reject it and one has declined to submit an opinion,'' said Marc Bormand, conservationist at the Louvre's sculpture department. 

He stressed that all had ''agreed on the exceptional quality of the work.'' Some held that ''the similarity of an anatomical study showing knowledge of human musculature and anatomy, when put alongside other works by the artist, show that it was made by Michelangelo''. 

Others instead said that ''it is certainly the work of a talented sculptor, but it seems incompatible with Michelangelo's ideal vision of the body''. 

In the opinion of the Louvre, which will be exhibiting the sculpture in a few months after it is restored, it is ''a work of large-scale interest'', and thus ''Michelangelo's name can be associated with it at least in terms of a style reference''.

Source: ANSA [June 14, 2013]

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