Depicting naked, muscular men riding triumphantly on two ferocious panthers, a pair of bronze statues have long been revered in the art world for their homoerotic beauty. Yet the experts were missing one crucial fact: the artist who created them.
New evidence suggests the pair of metre-high masterpieces, which have languished in relative obscurity for more than a century, are in fact the lost works of Michelangelo – making them the only bronzes made by the renaissance master known to survive.
Researchers from Cambridge University and Fitzwilliam Museum believe they have pinpointed the statues to his early output, shortly after his completion of the marble sculpture David and before painting the Sistine Chapel.
The statues were first claimed to be the work of Michelangelo while in the collection of Adolphe de Rothschild in the 19th century, but they are neither documented or signed and the theory was dismissed.
But a breakthrough came last autumn after Paul Joannides, emeritus professor of art history at Cambridge, connected them to a drawing by one of Michelangelo’s apprentices, copying his tutor’s work.
The best public art
The best public art
1/7 Michelangelo's 'David' (1504)
Linda Smith says it was originally conceived as public art and is therefore "hard to beat". She is right.
2/7 Trafalgar Square Lions (1867)
By Sir Edwin Landseer
3/7 'Skin 2' (2010)
By Mehmet Ali Uysal. A giant clothes peg in a park outside Liège, Belgium. Nominated by Simon Potter and identified by Neil Jefferies.
4/7 Statue of Liberty, New York (1886)
This 93m-high symbolic figure was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Nominated by Clive Davis.
5/7 'The Bull' in the Bullring, Birmingham (2003)
Actually titled The Guardian , a 2.2m-high bronze sculpture of a running, turning bull, created by Laurence Broderick. Nominated by Andrew Denny.
6/7 'Winston Churchill', Parliament Square, London (1973)
By Ivor Roberts-Jones. Nominated by Sir Michael Barber and by Jack Evans, who says: "I love the way he looks at Parliament in such a scathing way."
7/7 Stanley Matthews statue at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent (2001)
Three figures made by a team of local sculptors. Nominated by C Keeling.
In one corner is a composition of a muscular youth riding a panther, similar in pose to those of the bronzes, and drawn in the same manner that Michelangelo used while sketching designs for his sculptures.
The bronzes were compared with other works by Michelangelo and found to be very similar in style to his works of 1500-1510, a date range confirmed by initial X-ray analysis.
The inference is that Michelangelo was working up this unusual theme for a work in 3D, say the researchers.
Dr Victoria Avery, of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, where the sculptures are set to go on display today, said: “The bronzes are exceptionally powerful and compelling works of art that deserve close-up study – we hope the public will come and examine them for themselves and engage with this ongoing debate.”
The team is due to present its conclusion in July.Reuse content