Family put $300m Michelangelo behind sofa

A FAMILY in New York may have had an unfinished €300 million (€216m) Michelangelo painting hanging on their living room wall for a year.

In their home outside of Buffalo in upstate New York, the Kober family once displayed an unfinished panel painting of a Pieta – or a scene of Mary holding Jesus after his crucifixion. But when the children knocked the artwork off its perch with an errant tennis ball in the mid-1970s, the family tucked it away behind a sofa.

There it remained for 27 years, until Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Martin Kober retired in 2003 and had some time on his hands. His father gave him a task: research the family lore that the painting was actually created by Michelangelo.

Lt Col Kober, now 53, dug into the history of the painting, contacting auction houses, Renaissance art scholars and European archives, and even meeting museum directors in Italy.

He found Antonio Forcellino, an Italian art restorer and historian.

Forcellino said he visited Lt Col Kober’s home outside Buffalo to view the painting. “I had assumed it was going to be a copy,” he said. “In reality, this painting was even more beautiful than the versions hanging in Rome and Florence. The truth was this painting was much better than the ones they had. I had visions of telling them that there was this crazy guy in America telling everyone he had a Michelangelo at home.”

A scientific analysis of the painting proved that the Michelangelo claim was not so crazy.

The painting has already been whisked out of the family’s suburban home and put in a safe, with a possible price tag of $300m.

Forcellino said that infrared and X-ray examinations of the painting showed many alterations made by the artist as he changed his mind, and revealed an unfinished portion near the Madonna’s right knee.

“The X-rays that have been done are key,” he told the Sunday Times.

“They reveal his changes of mind; he moved the face of Christ, covered up grass to the left of the Virgin and left an area next to her right leg unfinished.

“It couldn’t possibly be a copy by another artist.”

According to research, the painting was probably executed around 1545 for Michelangelo’s friend Vittoria Colonna. It was later passed on to two Catholic cardinals, and eventually ended up in the hands of a German baroness named Villani. The work ended up with the Kobers after Villani willed it to her lady-in-waiting Gertrude Young.


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