Michelangelo crucifix has experts cross

May 25th, 2009 | by Ainsley |

It’s nowhere near as well-known as the scenes from Genesis on the ceiling of Rome’s Sistine Chapel or the statue of David in the Accademia Gallery in Florence.

But a miniature depiction of Christ is, for the time being at least, Michelangelo’s most-talked about work.

The wooden statuette, just 41.3cm (16¼in) high, is currently taking pride of place in a Naples exhibition. The posters advertising the event proudly proclaim it as the work of “Michelangelo Giovane” (Young Michelangelo). Yet there is controversy in Italian art circles, with experts bitterly divided over its authenticity.

The piece dates from around 1495, when the Italian Renaissance genius would have just turned 20. It came to light in 2004 among the collection of Turin art dealer Giancarlo Gallini.

Ministers paid him €3.25million for it and in late December and January it spent a month on display in the Italian parliament. The Government’s cultural heritage chief Roberto Cecchi hailed it as a new “ambassador for Italian culture in the world”.

A team of scientists and professors from Florence, Perugia and Siena universities examined it and were convinced that its style and anatomical accuracy were in keeping with the great man’s work.

Renaissance art expert Cristina Acidini Luchinat, superintendent at Florence’s state museum, added: “You can attribute it to Michelangelo…I’m as sure as I can possibly be.”

However, numerous dissenters are less convinced, believing amongst other things that a true Michelangelo would have fetched 10 times the amount the Government paid for it. They accuse Silvio Berlusconi’s administration of purchasing the piece to boost its standing with the Catholic Church and conservative voters.

One foreign museum is said to have been so unconvinced about it that it rejected the chance to exhibit it. One expert who might sympathise with that view is world-renowned Florence-based art specialist Prof Tomasso Montanari.

He said empathically: “This is way below Michelangelo’s standard. It’s like it came off production line and could have been made by any one of a dozen wood carvers of the time."

Fellow Florence-based expert Prof Francesco Caglioti echoed his sentiments and said: “It’s a scandal. The muscle definition is all wrong. Michelangelo rarely worked in wood. He rarely made small pieces like this. His contemporary biographers make no mention of his having made small works in wood.”

Regardless of the furore – and perhaps in part fuelled by it – visitors will flock to see it in the Naples gallery. But Prof Montanari warned: “This is making Italy look foolish and is harming our reputation as the world centre of culture and expertise."

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