Florence’s Secret Michelangelo Room Will Open to the Public in 2020
Florence is already well-known as an epicenter of fine art—with the Uffizi, Accademia, and Palatine galleries in its ranks, the city has a formidable collection. And in 2020, that collection will grow even more when a new Renaissance art source opens to the public: A secret chamber, filled with sketches that may have belonged to Michelangelo. Hidden beneath the Medici Chapels in the Basilica di San Lorenzo, the space was uncovered 42 years ago and subsequently closed off for preservation purposes—until now. Thanks to the Bargello Museum, which manages the Medici Chapels, the room will soon be open for all to enjoy.
The “Michelangelo Room” was discovered in 1975 when Paolo Dal Poggetto, then-director of the Medici Chapels museum, was searching for a new exit route for visitors. While exploring the New Sacristy, he found a trapdoor underneath a wardrobe, leading to what appeared to be storage space. Dal Poggetto suspected the plaster walls could be hiding a secret, and after weeks of plaster removal and painstaking cleaning, a fascinating surface was revealed underneath—scores of doodles on the walls, etched in charcoal and chalk. Though the works are unsigned and can’t be attributed to Michelangelo with absolute certainty, there are some hallmarks of his signature style: One drawing resembles a marble sculpture from the tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici in the New Sacristy (which Michelangelo also designed); another appears to be a detail from the statue of David.
Besides viewing sketches from one of the world’s foremost Renaissance artists, visitors will also gain insight into a more tumultuous period of Michelangelo’s life. Dal Pogetto believes the chamber was Michelangelo’s hideaway during an uprising against the Medici. After betraying his patrons and joining the revolt in 1529, the artist went underground (literally) in the 1530s, using the room as a refuge when the Medicis regained power. Two months later, he was pardoned and resumed his work on the chapel. Not all experts buy into this theory: William Wallace, a Michelangelo scholar at Washington University, believed Michelangelo would have been taken in by another patron instead. He also disputes Poggetto’s claim that Michelangelo drew these works in the 1530s—if he drew all of them in the first place. Nonetheless, he still regards the room as a significant place of art history. “Being in that room is exciting. You feel privileged,” Wallace told National Geographic. “You feel closer to the working process of a master and his pupils and assistants.”
Admission to the Medici Chapels currently starts at €7 (a little over $8), with free admission for students and children under 18. There’s no word yet on how the prices will be affected by the new Michelangelo room once it opens in 2020; according to the Telegraph, only a small number of tourists will be allowed in the room at a time. “We’re working on making the secret room of Michelangelo accessible,” said Paola D’Agostino, the director of the Bargello Museum. “There’s a plan under way to make the space safe for visitors. There’s a great deal to do.”