The narrow space beneath the New Sacristy would have been where the artist took refuge in 1530
He is known for his colossal works, such as the statue of David, the floor-to-ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel and the dome of St. Peter, which dominates Rome’s skyline.
But it is Michelangelo Buonarroti’s less bombastic work that is being exposed to the public for the first time in the artist’s “secret room” in Florence.
The small space is located beneath the Medici Chapels in Florence, where Michelangelo carved intricate tombs for members of the Medici family, behind the church of San Lorenzo in the Sagrestia Nuova, or New Sacristy.
In 1975, during work to create a new exit to the site, a restorer carrying out cleaning experiments discovered several drawings of human figures under two layers of plaster in a corridor below the sacristy, which had been used to store coal.
The narrow space is about 10 meters long, three meters wide and 2.5 meters high.
The figures – drawn in charcoal and sanguine (rust-colored crayon), often one on top of the other, and of different sizes – were attributed to Michelangelo by Paolo Dal Poggetto, the former director of the Medici Chapels.
It is thought that the artist hid in the claustrophobic space for several weeks in 1530, when Pope Clement VII – a member of the Medici family who had recently returned to power in Florence after being expelled by a republican government to which Michael Angelo had worked – ordered his death. The death sentence was overturned after two months and Michelangelo returned to work in Florence, before moving to Rome four years later.
The drawings are thought to be sketches for future works, including the legs of one of the statues in the New Sacristy.
“This place offers today’s visitors the unique experience of being able to come into direct contact not only with the master’s creative process, but also with the perception of the formation of his myth as a divine artist”, said Francesca de Luca, curator of the Museum of Medici Chapels, in a statement. Paola D’Agostino, director of the Bargello Museums, of which the chapels are part, said that the restoration has been “a long, constant and meticulous work”.
The space has never been regularly open to the public, but will open for visits on November 15th to a very limited number of people, in order to preserve the drawings. A maximum of 100 people will be able to visit per week, in groups of four, and 15-minute visits will take place every day except Tuesdays and Sundays. The location, at the bottom of a narrow staircase, means it is not accessible to visitors with disabilities or children under 10 years old.
Tickets cost 20 euros, although visitors also have to pay entry to the site (10 euros) plus a booking fee of 3 euros. Reservations are open until March 30th, as the opening is only on a trial basis.