What You Should Know About Michelangelo's Chamber

Renowned Italian artist Michelangelo is best known for the frescoes that he painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as well as his sculpture of David. During the Renaissance period, the Medici family ruled Florence, Italy, and family members were widely known as patrons of the arts. They allowed artists of the time the freedom to create and focus solely on their masterpieces by funding their artwork. In 1520, per Museums in Florence, Michelangelo was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Medici to work on a new sacristy. The cardinal also had plans to build a mausoleum for his deceased family members, and Michelangelo was brought in to work on sculptures and sarcophagi.

Sometime in the 1530s, however, Michelangelo went into hiding for several months, and no records of his whereabouts during that time exist. According to Wanted in Rome, it turned out that the artist went under the radar to hide from the Medicis. At that time, there was a revolt against the Medici rule, and despite the family being patrons of Michelangelo's works, he betrayed them and sided with the Florentines, who were fighting against the Medici rule. When the Medicis came back in power, Michelangelo knew he was in danger.

The discovery of Michelangelo's Chamber

Michelangelo decided to go into hiding underneath the Medici Chapels in the Basilica of St. Lorenzo. There, he stayed in a small room that was only accessible by a trap door. He didn't waste his time, though, and he continued working on his art, but that fact was unknown to the public until the 1970s (via National Geographic).

In 1975, Paolo Dal Poggetto, who was then the director of the Medici Chapels, accidentally found the trap door that led to Michelangelo's Chamber. Upon entering the small room, Dal Poggetto and his team found charcoal drawings on the walls. At that time, he wasn't aware that he was standing before Michelangelo's work, but he knew that the drawings were valuable Renaissance art. Renaissance artwork experts then studied the discovery and concluded that they were done by Michelangelo. The drawings consisted of masterpieces that the artist created — including charcoal sketches of David and the Sistine Chapel.

There are skeptics of the chamber drawings' authenticity

Although many believe that many of the charcoal and chalk drawings were done by Michelangelo, expert William Wallace begs to differ. According to Wallace, Michelangelo was such a prominent artist at that time that he wouldn't have spent months hiding underground. He believes that he was most likely taken in and protected by his other benefactors after he betrayed the Medicis. However, Wallace also stated that there is a possibility that some — perhaps a dozen — are Michelangelo's works. He explained that there is just no way to absolutely confirm that the Renaissance master drew the sketches as they aren't even signed (via National Geographic).

In total, there are about 70 sketches on the chamber walls. Renaissance and art experts disagree on how many of them were sketched by Michelangelo, but they all say that the chamber's discovery is a great addition to the art world. Visitors can see the drawings in person as Michelangelo's Chamber was opened to the public in 2020.