This Tiny Scribble by Michelangelo Just Sold for Over $200,000

The sketch was found attached to the back of a work by one of the Renaissance artist’s associates

Michelangelo scribble and letter
The 1.8- by 2.6-inch sketch by Michelangelo and an accompanying letter from his descendant, Cosimo Buonarroti Christie's

In the early 16th century, the Renaissance master Michelangelo drew a simple scribble. The pen-and-ink sketch, which is just a few lines, depicts a marble block with the word simile (Italian for “similar”) inside.

Earlier this month, that 1.8- by 2.6-inch drawing sold at Christie’s for $201,600—more than 30 times its low estimate of $6,000.

As Penta’s Casey Farmer reports, the sketch was found attached to the back of another work, A Battle of Giants, by an associate of Michelangelo’s. When that piece was sold at a Christie’s auction nearly 40 years ago, the catalog had mentioned a scrap of paper “believed to be in Michelangelo’s hand.”

Experts confirmed the scrap’s authenticity when it was rediscovered last year. They say it was likely part of a larger sheet that featured many other block drawings.

“These were either intended for the quarries that provided him with the blocks to make his sculptures, or for the shippers of these blocks,” Giada Damen, a specialist in old master drawings for Christie’s New York, told the Observer’s Alexandra Tremayne-Pengelly earlier this year.

Michelangelo is thought to have made the drawing around the time that he was working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, one of his most celebrated works, between 1508 and 1512, reports Agence France-Presse.

To determine pre-auction estimates, specialists “look at similar pieces that have appeared on the market, taking into account both the passage of time and all of the aspects of the current object that make it singular,” Damen added. “It’s always hard to put a value on something as rare as this.”

Michelangelo’s sketches have long commanded high prices at auction. In 2008, another marble block diagram by the artist sold at Christie’s for over £73,000 ($92,800), when its original estimate was between £10,000 ($12,700) and £15,000 ($19,000), per the Observer. Two years ago, a more detailed sketch, which experts have called the artist’s “first nude,” sold for €20 million ($21 million).

“[Michelangelo’s diagrams] are considered significant because they demonstrate his technical precision and visionary creativity at every phase of the artistic process, from preparatory studies to final measurements,” writes the Collector’s Emily Snow.

The newly discovered drawing was found alongside an 1836 letter written by Cosimo Buonarroti, Michelangelo’s last direct descendant, to John Bowring, a British diplomat who would later become the governor of Hong Kong. While the sketch is unsigned, Buonarroti writes in the letter that it is by his “illustrious forefather Michelangelo.”

The artist destroyed many of his sketches before his death in 1564. Despite these efforts, about 200 sheets survived. Most of them are held by the Casa Buonarroti, a Florence museum dedicated to Michelangelo, and Christie’s estimates that fewer than ten are in private hands.

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