Michelangelo is famous for his marble sculptures, with his most recognisable piece being David. Although, it is known that he also dabbled with bronze, it was thought that all of Michelangelo’s bronzes had been lost, but new evidence has suggested that this might not be the truth. The Fitzwilliam Museum teamed up with Cambridge University to lead an international study on the Rothschild Bronzes.
The Rothschild Bronzes are a pair of nonidentical figures, one which is of an older man, whilst the other is younger and more athletic. They were designed to be touched, in order to fully experience the figures, as they’re extremely detailed; with every sinew in the men’s muscles being perfectly preserved in bronze. Both of the men ride snarling panthers, which are strong and expressive, causing great admiration for the Rothschild Bronzes.
These figures have been a source of great debate over the last 120 years, ever since they were found to be in the Baron Rothschild’s collection in the late 1800s. He attributed them to Michelangelo, although many disregarded this claim, and once they were sold to private French collectors they began to be credited to many artists. These included Aspetti, Cellini, Sansovino and their circles, although the evidence was never particularly strong. The trouble with these bronzes is that there was never sufficient documentation of the pieces and, therefore, it couldn’t be pinpointed to a particular sculptor.
New evidence was linked to the bronzes by Prof. Joannides, and it came in the form of a drawing done by one of Michelangelo’s students. It is exhibited in the Musée Fabre, in Montepellier, and is of copies of Michelangelo’s work. Within these sketches one can see, amongst the tiny detail, a man riding a panther. Although this is not definitive proof it certainly is exciting. With the neutron scan, which was performed in Switzerland, matching the date of which Michelangelo was sculpting (16th Century), all evidence points to him. This would make the Rothschild Bronzes one of the great artists’ early work, chronologically placing it between David and the Sistine Chapel.
To find out more about the Rothschild Bronzes and the exhibition at the Fitzwilliam have a look at the events page.