Rare Michelangelo Sketch Found Inside Vatican

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A lost drawing by Michelangelo, probably his last work, has been found in the Vatican archives, the Pope’s newspaper reported today.

Drawn in blood-red chalk in the spring of 1563, less than a year before Michelangelo’s death at the age of 89, the sketch depicts a section the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“The sureness in his stroke, the expert hand used to making decisions in front of unfinished stone, leave little doubt: the sketch was drawn by Michelangelo,” the Vatican daily “L’Osservatore Romano” wrote.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) worked as the architect of the basilica for 17 years, from 1547 until shortly before his death in 1564.

According to the Vatican newspaper, the Renaissance master probably drew the sketch on the construction site, to show stone-cutters the shape of the Travertine rock he wanted them to pick up from quarries located in Fiano Romano, north of Rome.

Indeed, the sketch also contains some measurements — the numbers 6, 9 and 3/4.

“It talks the language of the stone cutters. Blood-red chalk was widely used among stone cutters and sculptors, as it was easier to recognize the red color on the Travertine rock,” according to the newspaper account.

Very few sketches of the basilica exist. At the end of his life, Michelangelo destroyed many of his designs, as they were drawn only for a practical use, basically to show the workers the kind of stone he needed.

At the time of the basilica’s construction, expert stone cutters were used to travel to the quarries north of Rome to assure that the stones were cut exactly according to the architect’s requirements.

For this reason, they brought with them precious sketches by Michelangelo. To prevent a market for these sketches (at that time Michelangelo’s drawings were already in great demand), the master destroyed the sketches as the stone cutters returned from their business trips.

The newly discovered sketch survived because a supervisor used the back of the paper to write down the names of some people who had created problems with the stone’s transport to Rome.

The sketch then ended up in files concerning the costs of the basilica’s construction and was discovered only after recent research carried by Rome’s Bibliotheca Hertziana and the University of Bonn.

“The discovery is important not only because the sketch is especially rare, but because it shows that a nearing 90-year-old Michelangelo was still in charge of the basilica’s work and was taking important decisions,” the Vatican newspaper reported.

Michelangelo completed the dome and four columns for its base before his death in February 1564. The structure was completed by architect Giacomo della Porta around 1590.

The Vatican will present the sketch at a news conference on Monday.

in Discovery News