Tiny Michelangelo Sketch of a Marble Block Sells for 33 Times Its Estimate

The scribble by Michelangelo brought in more than $200,000.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Diagram of a rectangular block of marble. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd, 2024.

A drawing by the famed Renaissance master Michelangelo has sold for $201,600 at Christie’s. The auction house expected the drawing, which went under the hammer on April 17, to sell for between $6,000 and $8,000. Instead, a surprisingly competitive bidding war resulted in an anonymous buyer purchasing the item for more than 33 times its low estimate.

The drawing isn’t so much a drawing as it is a scribble: a quick diagram of a block of marble Michelangelo sketched in preparation for one of his many ambitious projects, possibly the Sistine Chapel. The drawing is accompanied by the word “simile,” meaning “similar” in English, leading Old Masters specialist Giada Damen, who helped Christie’s verify the document, to speculate it was likely produced as part of a communication with a marble quarry or shipping firm from where Michelangelo got his materials.

Although the Renaissance artist did not sign the 1.8 by 2.6 inch drawing, experts consulted by Christie’s feel confident that it was made by his hand. Their certainty is derived from the relatively clear provenance of an attached letter written by Michelangelo’s descendent Cosimo Buonarroti in 1836, in which he offers the work from his “illustrious forefather” to Sir John Browning, the future Governor of Hong Kong, whose signature can be found on the bottom of the page.

“The enclosed writing and outline of Michelangelo was given on this day by his descendant Cosimo Buonarroti,” the letter, originally written in Italian, reads.

A small rectangular piece of marble and a sheet of paper with inscribed in brown ink

Michelangelo Buonarroti, Diagram of a rectangular block of marble
inscribed “simile.” Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd, 2024.

Michelangelo relied on drawing throughout his practice as he designed his two- and three-dimensional works. He destroyed most of these drawings before his death in 1564—”so that no one should see the labors he endured and the ways he tested his genius,” wrote Vasari in The Lives of the Artists—though more than 200 sheets have survived, including his sketches of marble blocks. They are currently held by the Casa Buonarroti, a museum in Florence created by the artist’s grand nephew Michelangelo Buonarroti the younger, and later run by Cosimo. Christie’s estimates that less than 10 Michelangelos are currently in private hands.

That this latest drawing ended up selling for far above its asking price should not come as a surprise, as Michelangelo’s work routinely sells for record-breaking numbers. The previous time one of Michelangelo’s diagrams went under the hammer at Christie’s, in 2008, it passed hands for more than $90,000 against an estimate of between $12,500 and $18,800.

In 2022, Christie’s sold an actual sketch—believed to be the artist’s first-known nude—for $24 million, beating the $10.1 million sale of his drawing, The Risen Christ, in 2000.

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