Maybe Michelan­gelo

Is liv­ing room paint­ing a mas­ter­piece?

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY CAROLYN THOMP­SON

Martin Kober is con­vinced the paint­ing of a dy­ing Je­sus that hung above the man­tel in his up­state New York child­hood home is the work of Michelan­gelo. Get­ting ex­perts to agree re­mains the $300 mil­lion hur­dle.

That’s the po­ten­tial value of the 19-by-25-inch work that Kober’s fam­ily af­fec­tion­ately calls the “the Mike,’’ a one-time liv­ing room fix­ture that oc­ca­sion­ally got dinged by a thrown ten­nis ball and once fell from the wall while be­ing dusted.

Kober has for the last 15 years taken his Michelan­gelo sus­pi­cions to the art world and got­ten a mixed bag of schol­arly opinions. For now, the circa 1545 fam­ily heir­loom that was given to Kober’s great-great­grand­fa­ther’s sis­ter-in-law by a Ger­man baroness re­mains in an out-of-state vault while he seeks the elu­sive val­i­da­tion.

“It’s tor­ment­ing now,’’ said Kober, a re­tired com­mer­cial pi­lot who grew up in the Rochester sub­urb of Greece. “I’m no­body, I’m not con­nected. I don’t know if that’s it.’’

The wood-panel paint­ing de­picts a dy­ing Je­sus sup­ported by two an­gels in the lap of the Vir­gin Mary. Doubters view it as sim­ply not good enough to be by Michelan­gelo or be­lieve it’s an­other artist’s painted ver­sion of a much-copied Michelan­gelo draw­ing. Some ques­tion whether the then-70-year-old artist would have had time to fit the paint­ing in be­tween the Last Judg­ment fresco at the Sis­tine Chapel and an­other fresco at the Pauline Chapel.

Sup­port­ers of Kober’s claim cite writ­ten his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences and foren­sic ev­i­dence that in­cludes Michelan­gelo’s pre­ferred paint type, small brush strokes and mid-work changes vis­i­ble by in­frared test­ing that they say in­di­cate an original, rather than copied, work.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the world of at­tri­bu­tion is never a de­fin­i­tive af­fair,’’ said Michelan­gelo ex­pert Wil­liam Wal­lace, who is not sur­prised a con­sen­sus has yet to emerge. As­sign­ing any work to a mas­ter is al­most al­ways a mat­ter of wax­ing and wan­ing schol­arly opin­ion, he said, and pieces tend to fall in and out of favour as opinions change over time.

Kober says the mu­se­ums and ex­perts that have re­sisted his paint­ing have not ex­am­ined the piece or fully con­sid­ered the his­tor­i­cal and sci­en­tific ev­i­dence, much of which is spelled out in a 2014 book, “The Ra­gusa Pi­eta: His­tory and Restora­tion.’’ The book doc­u­ments the phil­an­thropic Rome Foun­da­tion’s clean­ing and di­ag­nos­tic anal­y­sis of the paint­ing in Italy be­gin­ning in 2011, be­fore it was dis­played there as part of a Re­nais­sance ex­hi­bi­tion.

Wal­lace, an art his­tory pro­fes­sor at Washington Univer­sity in St. Louis who saw the paint­ing be­fore it was re­stored, hasn’t ruled out that it is by Michelan­gelo. But he be­lieves it was more likely painted by a long­time friend and con­tem­po­rary of the artist, Mar­cello Venusti, with Michelan­gelo’s bless­ing. In Re­nais­sance times, Wal­lace said, the paint­ing and others like it still would have been con­sid­ered Michelan­gelo’s be­cause they were based on a Michelan­gelo draw­ing and done at his be­hest.

Among the big­gest ob­sta­cles to its ac­cep­tance are dif­fer­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions of writ­ten ref­er­ences to the work dat­ing back to the Re­nais­sance, and whether they re­fer to a draw­ing, as was long thought, or a paint­ing.

One of the paint­ing’s strong­est cham­pi­ons is Ital­ian art his­to­rian and re­storer An­to­nio For­cellino, who has ex­am­ined the paint­ing and wrote about it in “The Lost Michelan­ge­los’’ in 2011.

Com­pared to Euro­pean schol­ars, “the cold­ness of Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions is un­ex­plain­able to this paint­ing,’’ For­cellino said in an email.

For now, a frus­trated Kober can’t understand why such pos­i­tive opinions have not gen­er­ated more buzz among schol­ars. He’s now will­ing to turn over his quixotic ver­i­fi­ca­tion quest to an artis­tic or phil­an­thropic or­ga­ni­za­tion with more clout.

“This paint­ing can be poked and prod­ded all over again if that’s what it takes, but the re­sults will be the same,’’ he said. “It’s a Michelan­gelo!’’


Martin Kober dis­plays lit­er­a­ture and copies of a fam­ily heir­loom that he be­lieves was painted by Re­nais­sance mas­ter Michelan­gelo, at his home in Tonawanda, N.Y. Kober is con­vinced the paint­ing of a dy­ing Je­sus that hung above the man­tel in his up­state New York child­hood home is the work of Michelan­gelo. Get­ting ex­perts to agree re­mains the $300 mil­lion hur­dle.

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