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Potential sketches made by Michelangelo in Florence chapel's secret room to open to public

Delicate charcoal drawings that some experts have attributed to Michelangelo are seen on the walls of a room used to store coal until 1955 inside Florence's Medici Chapel
Delicate charcoal drawings that some experts have attributed to Michelangelo are seen on the walls of a room used to store coal until 1955 inside Florence's Medici Chapel Copyright Credit: Francesco Fanfani/AP
Copyright Credit: Francesco Fanfani/AP
By Theo FarrantAP
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A hidden chamber, containing sketches many have attributed to Italian Renaissance master, Michelangelo, during his escape from a death sentence by Pope Clement VII, will soon open to the public.

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Soon, a maximum of four visitors at a time will be allowed access to a long-hidden space inside Florence's Medici Chapel where delicate charcoal drawings sketched on the walls have been attributed by some experts to Michelangelo.

This secret room - a tiny space measuring 10 by 3 metres (33 by 10 feet) - was unearthed in 1975 during an exploration for a new exit from the Medici Chapel to accommodate the growing number of visitors.

The museum's then-director Paolo Dal Poggetto “firmly believed that they were by Michelangelo,’’ said the current director, Paola D’Agostino. 

A fierce debate ensued, and continues to this day.

“The major scholars of Michelangelo’s drawings dismissed the attributions” at the time of discovery 50 years ago, she said. “Others had a more moderate view, in the sense they tough that some could be by Michelangelo and others could be by followers. So the debate is ongoing.”

What was the secret room used for?

Delicate charcoal drawings that some experts have attributed to Michelangelo are seen on the walls of a room used to store coal until 1955 inside Florence's Medici Chapel
Delicate charcoal drawings that some experts have attributed to Michelangelo are seen on the walls of a room used to store coal until 1955 inside Florence's Medici ChapelCredit: Luigi Navarra/AP

The room was used to store coal until 1955, and then sealed closed and forgotten for decades below a trapdoor that was in turn hidden beneath furniture. The drawings themselves were discovered under two layers of plaster.

According to Dal Poggetto’s theory, Michelangelo hid in the tiny space from “the wrath of Pope Clement VII” for supporting a short-lived republic that overthrew the Medicis, sketching studies for some of his projects. 

They include sketches believed to be the legs of Giuliano de’ Medici, as included in the New Sacristy near the secret room’s entrance.

Delicate charcoal drawings of legs that some experts have attributed to Michelangelo are seen on the walls of a room inside Florence's Medici Chapel
Delicate charcoal drawings of legs that some experts have attributed to Michelangelo are seen on the walls of a room inside Florence's Medici ChapelSilvia Stellacci/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

For most of the last 50 years, access to the room has been restricted.

Officials decided to open the room to the public on a limited basis, and will alternate exposure to LED lights with extended periods of darkness to protect the works.

From 15 November, up to 100 visitors will be granted access each week by reservation, four at a time, spending a maximum of 15 minutes inside the space.

Video editor • Theo Farrant

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