Nude Crucifixion Sculpted by a Teenage Michelangelo Returns to Florence

The sculpture was rediscovered in 1962.

Wooden crucifix sculpted by Michelangelo at the Santo Spirito basilica in Florence. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

A 53-inch polychrome crucifix, sculpted by Michelangelo, has been returned to the church it was created for, the Basilica de Santo Spirito in Florence, according to AFP. The sculpture of a nude Jesus Christ on the cross, which recently went on tour in Italy, now hangs above the old sacristy, a cabinet housing sacred vessels and vestments by the west aisle of the church.

Michelangelo sculpted the piece at 18, when he was living with the Augustine monks at Santo Spirito following the death of his first patron, Lorenzo de Medici. The monks let him do anatomical studies of the corpses from the church’s attached hospital. As a thank you, Michelangelo carved this crucifix for their high altar around 1492.

The crucifix was believed to have been lost until 1962, when it was discovered in the corridor of a convent. At first it wasn’t recognized as a Michelangelo because it was so badly over-painted, but the masterpiece was restored and then shown in Florence’s Casa Buonarrotti Museum. In 2001, Umberto Baldini, the then director of the cultural division of Italy’s National Research Council, along with two experts on human anatomy, confirmed the work to be a true Michelangelo. The crucifix came home on Tuesday, and is now displayed over the sacristy so viewers can examine it from all angles.

This crucifix is not to be confused with the other one rumored to be a Michelangelo, a 16-inch polychrome linden wood sculpture dating from around 1495. The Italian government drew ire from critics when it bought that small crucifix for $4.2 million in 2008, at the height of the worldwide financial crisis. Specialists and art historians are still in disagreement as to its authenticity.


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