The Ragusa Pietà and the Cavalieri Crucifixion: the “Lost Michelangelos” are back in Rome

Il Rinascimento a Roma – The Renaissance in Rome: this new exhibition at Palazzo Sciarra opened today and will run until 12 February.  Among other paintings rarely seen side by side – they have come from other museums in Italy, but also from St Petersburg and Vienna – pride of place is taken by the two paintings attributed to Michelangelo that featured in the book by Antonio Forcellino The Lost Michelangelos, published by Polity earlier this year.   I had the pleasure of translating the book – a real pleasure because my specialist subject is early sixteenth-century Italian history, and in particular the Florentine community in Rome and the spiritual upheavals of the years leading up to the Council of Trent.

Corresponding with Antonio Forcellino, who has been present during Lorenza D’Alessandro’s restoration of the Pietà  – now sometimes unappealingly called the Buffalo Pietà: I much prefer the Ragusa Pietà, which I hope will win the day! – I realise that the case for its attribution to the great master is gaining strength by the day.  It is rare indeed in the art world that the archival documentation, the historical reconstruction of events, and the technical analysis of the painting coincide so completely.  What seems even more bizarre is that until the late 19th century (when the painting was taken to America), this painting was recognised by all those who knew of it to be by Michelangelo, but this all changed when the great art historians of the 20th century – scholars of the calibre of Johannes Wilde and others – chose to disregard the archival documentation on the grounds that Vasari had decreed that the master had produced only four panel paintings, or easel paintings.  All this has been extensively written up in scholarly articles by Antonio Forcellino and his sister Maria Forcellino – and the latter has also written extensively on the Cavalieri Crucifixion in Oxford and on Michelangelo, Vittoria Colonna e gli spirituali (2009).  However, to no avail: many art historians still rule out the evidence.  Time will tell, but with this exhibition the countdown is now well underway.

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