Michelangelo show draws record sales

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The Independent Online

The British Museum has taken a record number of advance bookings for an exhibition of works by Michelangelo, which opens this week.

With advance sales of almost 11,000 tickets it is thought that Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master will be one of the shows of the year. The exhibition features sculptures, correspondence and a number of sketches, including thumbnail sketches and red chalk studies tracing the evolution of the painting of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican palace.

The number of advance sales is three times the previous record of 3,670 tickets for the museum's Persia exhibition. The museum is hoping that about 150,000 visitors, the same number as the Persia exhibition, Forgotten Empire, will visit Michelangelo Drawings which runs from 23 March until 25 June.

There has been a fall in the number of people visiting London's attractions since last July's terror attacks. But earlier this year Tate Britain partly attributed a 58 per cent rise in visitors to an exhibition of Monet, Whistler and Turner which drew 382,000 visitors, its most successful exhibition.

Hugo Chapman, the curator of the Michelangelo exhibition, said there was an irony behind its likely success - the Florentine artist himself took pains to shroud his work in secrecy. He regularly destroyed his sketches to prevent them getting into the hands of rivals and because, it is now thought, he did not want people to see the work that went into creating his majestic human forms. Mr Chapman said: "Michelangelo would have hated this exhibition. He wouldn't have wanted us to understand how he worked. He wanted us to go into the Sistine Chapel and be amazed.

"But I think he was wrong to destroy his drawings because they bring a further understanding and make us appreciate his genius even more."

The works on display come from collections in the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Teyler Museum in the Netherlands, and are the British Museum's first Michelangelo exhibition in 30 years. It opens with portraits and a sculpture - complete with broken nose - of the artist. It was unusual in the 16th century for artists to be painted by their contemporaries, and the works are testament to Michelangelo's fame. Visitors are also shown drawings which Michelangelo used to tutor his students, alongside the pupils' own sketches.