#art history

A Forgotten Vault Where Michelangelo Hid and Sketched For Months Opens for the First Time

November 2, 2023

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of the Bargello Museums, Florence

In 1530, Michelangelo went into hiding after receiving a death sentence from Pope Clement VII. The iconic Renaissance artist had been caught in the political strife of his patrons, the Medici family, who had just returned to Florence after being overthrown by a populist revolt in 1527. During their exile, Michelangelo worked with the short-lived republican government to help secure the city’s defense walls and so became an enemy of his powerful supporters.

It is believed he spent two months stowed away in a tiny vault stretching just 32 feet long and 6.5 feet wide, with 8-foot ceilings at their highest points and a single window to the street, before the pope rescinded the sentence. Tucked into the Medici Chapels in the Basilica of San Lorenzo, the claustrophobic room also became a canvas for the artist, who’s thought to have sketched dozens of drawings on the walls. Using carbonized wood and red chalk, the artist rendered several figurative works, including the head of the ancient Laocoön sculpture and iterations of his own masterpieces, including his Leda and the Swan painting and iterations of his David statue.

The drawings were hidden until 1975 when the then-director of the Medici Chapels, Paolo Dal Poggetto, was trying to find a new space for the museum exit. A trapdoor under a cabinet led to the room, which was filthy from housing slack coal for two decades. When the walls were finally stripped of two layers of plaster, the museum discovered the artworks.

Given its small dimensions, the space has previously been restricted to visitors for fear of damaging the drawings, although on November 15, it will open to the public for the first time. The decision comes after security renovations that will allow four visitors inside at a time, with only 100 tickets available per week through March 30, 2024. (via The History Blog)


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