Could a seated man be the earliest surviving and identified drawing of Renaissance master Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti?
Until 30 June, the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest's exhibition The Triumph of the Body is displaying drawings by masters of the 16th century, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Agnolo Bronzino and Jacopo Pontormo. However, the primary focus of the exhibition is on the decades-long career of the brilliant Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti, one of whose drawings in the exhibition is causing quite the stir.
The work, Drawing of a Seated Man, is executed with pen and brown ink on paper and depicts an enthroned man wearing a toga with a sceptre in his hand, presumably an antique subject. Since 1989, the drawing has been in a private British collection. Its current owner acquired it as the work of an unidentified Renaissance artist at an auction in France and has now made it available for the first time for a major exhibition.
The owner also showed it to the Renaissance expert Sir Timothy Clifford, who identified it as a work by Michelangelo – and the earliest attributed to the master of the Italian High Renaissance.
Sir Timothy dates the drawing to around the year 1487. Michelangelo was then about 12 years old and had just told his father, a respected citizen of Florence, that he would become an artist. He began training with Domenico Ghirlandaio, one of the then leading painters of Florence. If the date and the assignment are correct, one can only say that the drawing displays pure talent, demonstrating Michelangelo’s gift from a young age.
The high quality of the drawing by such a young creator isn’t the only surprise here, but also the fact that it has survived to this day. As you can easily imagine from the ceiling paintings in the Sistine Chapel or the colossal marble statue of David in Florence, Michelangelo was an absolute perfectionist who wanted to impress his contemporaries with finished works of art only. As a result, for the genius Michelangelo, he would often choose to not divulge works – he regularly destroyed preliminary sketches and drawings, the last in a big fire shortly before his death in 1564.