Find of the century: Old painting a suburban family stuffed behind a sofa is £188million Michelangelo
By Daniel Bates - 12th October 2010
"When their children knocked it off the wall with a wayward tennis ball, the Kober family wrapped up the painting they knew as ‘The Mike’ and shoved it behind the sofa.
There it remained for the next 27 years, ignored and forgotten along with the family legend that it was actually painted by Michelangelo.
Now, having finally consulted the experts, the Kobers are reeling with the news that it does indeed appear to be genuine - and could be the art find of the century.
It has already been whisked out of their modest suburban home in Buffalo, New York, and put in a safe, with a possible price tag of $300million (£188million).
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.
Antonio Forcellino, an Italian art restorer and historian, is convinced the painting is genuine and was staggered when he was shown it by Martin Kober, 53.
A scientific analysis of the Jesus and Mary including infrared and X-ray examinations showed that the artist had made a series of alterations as he changed his mind.
Near the Madonna’s right knee of the 25in by 19in wood panel is also an unfinished portion, which is strong evidence of its originality.
‘The evidence of unfinished portions demonstrate that this painting never, never, never could be a copy of another painting,’ Forcellino said. ‘No patron pays in the Renaissance for an unfinished copy.’
Enlarge Resemblance: A study of the pieta that Michelangelo painted for his friend Vittoria Colonna in 1545
As he went to the Kobers’ home, Forcellino was sceptical but was left open-mouthed by what he saw.
‘In reality this painting was even more beautiful than the versions hanging in Rome and Florence,’ he said.
‘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.
‘I had assumed it was going to be a copy.’
It appears that Michelangelo painted the picture in 1545 for his friend Vittoria Colonna, some 45 years after his famous ‘Pieta’ of Mary holding Jesus at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The painting was handed to two Catholic cardinals before it found its way to a German baroness called Villani.
She gave it to her lady-in-waiting called Gertrude Young - the sister-in-law of Kober’s great great grandfather - and she sent it to the U.S. in 1883 where it has remained ever since.
Kober finally got around to looking into the painting’s history in 2003 when he retired from the Air Force.
He had it restored to remove 500 years of wear and tear, contacted auction houses and scholars and eventually persuaded Forcellino to come and see it.
‘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 said.
He explained that in 1868, respected Michelangelo biographer Herman Grimm had seen the painting and said it was an original.
Further evidence includes a letter in the Vatican library discussing a Pieta painting for Colonna, he said.
‘I'm absolutely convinced that is a Michelangelo painting,’ he said. Because there is no way of proving beyond all doubt a painting is authentic, the weight of experts over time will decide if it indeed a Michelangelo.
Recent Michelangelos that have come up for sale have reached $20million (£12million), although those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York could fetch $300million were they to be put on sale."
Sketch for the Vittoria Colonna painting by Michaelangelo.