Find Of The Century: $300M ‘Michelangelo Painting’ Found Behind Sofa

A dusty old painting stored behind a family sofa could be a Michelangelo worth up to $300 million and potentially one of the art finds of the century, according to an expert.

Pieta Bread: Experts claim this painting - owned by a Brooklyn family who called it 'The Mike' - may actually be a genuine Michelangelo worth millions of dollars. Photo: NY Post

Check behind your sofa, folks. You might have more than loose change back there.

At least, that may be the case for one family in Buffalo, N.Y. who may have had the ‘Michelangelo Painting’ worth $300 million tucked behind their living room sofa for years, reports the New York Post.

The unfinished painting of Jesus and Mary by the Renaissance artist has long been in the family of US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Martin Kober for 27 years – and could be the art find of the century.

The painting, which the NY Post says the family nicknamed “The Mike,” found its way behind the couch after it was knocked off its post by a tennis ball. After the incident, the Kober family wrapped it up and stowed it away.

But 27 years later, in 2003, Air Force Lt. Col. Martin Kober, now 53, decided to take advantage of his free time and research family stories that the painting was done by the famed Italian painter.

He took it to Antonio Forcellino, an Italian art restorer and historian. Mr Forcellino is convinced it’s a genuine, painted depiction of the Pieta, Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of the body of Jesus on his mother’s lap, which is housed in St Peter’s Basilica.

“It wasn’t the story that had scared me, but that it had been exposed to heating commonly found inside a middle-class home,” Forcellino writes in his new book, “La Pieta Perduta,” or “The Lost Pieta,” published in Italy and due out in the United States next year.

And he didn’t believe in the existence of another version of Michelangelo paintings that are hanging in Italian museums. “I had assumed it was going to be a copy,” Forcellino said. Still, Forcellino skeptically visited Kober’s home outside Buffalo to view the painting, and the trip left him a bit breathless.

“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,” Forcellino said.

Mr Forcellino claims that infrared and X-ray examinations showed changes made by the artist and an unfinished area of canvas close to the Madonna’s right knee.

He said: “The evidence of unfinished portions demonstrate that this painting never, never, never could be a copy of another painting. No patron pays in the Renaissance for an unfinished copy. I’m absolutely convinced that is a Michelangelo painting.”

According to Mr Forcellino’s investigation, a letter in the Vatican library points to the painting having been done by Michelangelo for his friend Vittoria Colonna in around 1545. That was about 45 years after Michelangelo did his famed “Pieta,” or pity, sculpture of Mary holding Jesus, housed in St. Peter’s Basilica.

‘The Pieta’ painting was passed to two Catholic cardinals, eventually ending up in the hands of a German baroness named Villani, who left it to a lady-in-waiting, who was the sister-in-law of Mr Kober’s great-grandfather. It arrived in America in 1883.

Forcellino said Herman Grimm, a noted Michelangelo biographer, saw the “Pieta” in 1868 and attributed it to the master. Additional evidence includes a letter in the Vatican library discussing a Pieta painting for Colonna, he said.

Michelangelo expert William Wallace, a professor of architecture and art history at Washington University in St. Louis, said he saw the painting before Kober had it privately restored to remove 500 years of wear and tear.

Since there is no definitive scientific way to attribute such a painting, Wallace said it would be the weight of experts over time that would hold sway on whether it is a Michelangelo. One thing is certain, however – the painting’s potential worth. So, the family have placed it in a bank vault now.

The rare Michelangelo drawings that have come up for sale in recent years have sold for as much as $20 million. And a possible Michelangelo at the Metropolitan Museum of Art could be worth as much as $300 million. “Millions and millions,” Wallace said of the lost Pieta’s value. [via Daily Mail (UK) and NY Post]

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