Art world agog at NY's 'new Michelangelo'

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The Independent Online

New York

New York can boast many priceless works of art, in galleries from the Guggenheim to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it has not been able to count a sculpture by Michelangelo among them. Until now.

In a find that has the art world agog, it seems that a 3ft (1m) statue of a naked boy bearing a quiver of arrows in the shape of a lion's paw, unnoticed for years in the lobby of a Fifth Avenue mansion belonging to the French government, may be an early work of the 16th-century Italian master.

Credit for the discovery is being conferred on Dr Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt, a lecturer at the New York Institute of Fine Arts. She had for years been familiar with the statue, which rests on a Roman-style altar in the gloomy lobby of a house built at the turn of the century by a New York architect, Stanford White. The building is near the Institute and houses the French cultural centre.

It was only last October that the possibly great origins of the piece began to dawn on Dr Brandt. The cultural centre was the venue for an exhibition of French decorative arts, and for the first time, Dr Brandt saw the statue under the revealing glare of spotlights. "It reminded me forcefully in its every detail of the earliest works of Michelangelo," she said.

Subsequent research has revealed that the piece, which has been extensively damaged, was offered at auction in London in 1902 by a Florentine collector, Stefano Bardini. It failed to attract a good price and was returned to Italy, where Mr White acquired it from a dealer. He shipped the statue to New York, and set it in the lobby of his new mansion.

Among those supporting Dr Brandt's theory is Nicholas Penny, chief curator for the Italian Renaissance at the National Gallery in London.

"I am convinced she is right," he told the New York Times. "The more one looks at it, the more it grows on one, not only as a remarkable work of art but something that makes sense as a work of Michelangelo."

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has offered to exhibit it, but is only one among several museums manoeuvring to provide him with a new haven. There has been no word from the French government, nor from the directors of another great art museum, the Louvre.