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Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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Michelangeloʼs fingerprint presumably discovered in one of his sculptures 

The discovery of a fingerprint on a piece of wax by Michelangelo Buonarroti reveals signs of a dark past, still unexplored.

Miguel Ángel Buonarroti had a guiding principle to carry out his sculptural work. In the entrails of each stone there is a sculpture, and it is the sculptor's job to discover it. Under this work ethic, the artist earned recognition from his colleagues during the Italian Renaissance as the ultimate benchmark for proportions and realism on such hostile materials. 

Although he not only served as a sculptor, the treatment he achieved on marble and other stones keeps him among the most outstanding artists in the history of Italy. More than 450 years after the completion of his last work, new evidence from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London reveals that a fingerprint of the artist may have been perfectly preserved on the skin of one of his lesser-known sculptures.

Marks on the skin

A recent analysis of a wax sculpture that is part of the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum revealed the possibility that Miguel Ángel Buonarroti has left his personal mark there. The fingerprint appears smeared, as if it had been the result of a quick and accidental movement.

This sculpture was designed as a study for another larger-scale piece, which was intended to be placed in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. He is known as The Slave. Despite preparations, the other sculpture was never finished. However, it once again attracted the attention of the museum's curators during the most severe confinements due to the COVID-19 pandemic while it was being transferred: on the skin, there is a mark. 

They had never seen her. Experts attribute this lack of visibility to the environmental conditions under which the piece had been stored. A slight change in the warmth or humidity of the rooms may have melted a small part of the skin on the buttocks, where the trace of a fingerprint is clearly visible. Since the design is originally by Michelangelo, the brand is most likely his as well.

To the stake

Before dying, with 88 years of life behind him, Miguel Ángel had most of his unfinished works burned. Along with notes, sketchbooks and other papers of his authorship, it all went to a burning pyre in Rome.

Despite this final decision, the study of The Slave survived. Peta Motture, Principal Curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum, assures that the fingerprint found was a “fascinating” serendipity:  

"It is an exciting prospect that one of Michelangelo's impressions has survived in the wax," he said in the institution's statement. “Such marks would suggest the physical presence of an artist's creative process. It is where the mind and the hand somehow come together”.

In this way, according to Motture, today one can have access to a more personal level of the artist. In his words, to a "more direct connection" with his work, his work and his unfinished legacy, which remains a mystery to art historians. This fingerprint is a piece of light on a dark past, still inaccessible to contemporary review. (Text and photos: Taken from National Geographic)