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The Met’s Stealth Attribution: A Michelangelo in Our Midst?

The putative “Michelangelo of Fifth Avenue” has gotten an upgrade.

With Italian Renaissance scholars James Beck, Leo Steinberg and, above all, the great Michelangelo expert Creighton Gilbert no longer with us to cast doubt on his controversial, ambitious attribution, James Draper, curator at the Metropolitan Museum, has quietly removed the “attributed to” from the label for this armless waif, whom I recently came upon in the corridor leading from the Met’s European sculpture and decorative arts galleries to its arms and armor display:

MichelMet.jpg

Michelangelo [or not], “Young Archer,” ca. 1490, on loan to the Met from the French State, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The lad was the subject of a 2009 exhibition that had purported to present “various scholarly schools of thought” regarding the disputed attribution, “so that viewers can make up their minds accordingly.”In reality, as I had noted in my post about that show, the wall text “gave no attention whatsoever to any ‘scholarly schools of thought’” that differed from Draper’s and the case that he made for Michelangelo’s authorship seemed “far from airtight.”In his audio podcast related to that 2009 exhibition, Draper ended with this:

If people are unconvinced, I’m not worried. I’m glad we can offer people the chance to see and decide.

Now Draper has decided for us.

The current label for the sculpture, which presents it as being by the master (without qualification), asserts that “many scholars believe that Michelangelo made this statue as a precocious teenager living in the palace of his first patron, Lorenzo de’ Medici.”

But as I said in my Wall Street Journal piece—”Michelangelo(?) in America”—published shortly after its 1996 “discovery,” several distinguished scholars didn’t believe it was by that master at all.  (You can read in full what I then wrote at the end of this post.) Yale art history professor Gilbert contacted me several times after my WSJ article appeared to discuss in detail why he believed the sculpture was not by Michelangelo and was neither Apollo nor Cupid (the subjects suggested in the Met’s description).

But Draper has the last word. Here’s the marble’s current label:

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