Coinciding with the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s death, an exhibition at the Musei Capitolini in Rome has caused a stir with its inclusion of two crucifixes that organizers have tentatively attributed to Michelangelo. Michelangelo. Incontrare un artista universale includes over 150 works of painting, sculpture, drawing, architectural design, and poetry exhibited in nine thematic sections by Michelangelo, his contemporaries, and his forbears. Two wooden crucifixes, however, have drawn the most attention, not least because of their display next to the life-size statute of Jesus on the cross from the Florentine church of Santo Spirito that most experts agree is an early work by the artist. Less secure are the attributions of a crucifix now in Florence’s Bargello museum, which the exhibition lists as “Michelangelo (attributed to),” and another belonging to the Louvre which carries the less definitive assignment of “Florentine sculptor, Michelangelo?”

The Bargello crucifix finds itself at the center of a legal case over its authenticity and the object of criticism by scholars who doubt that Michelangelo ever made small devotional objects of this type. The Louvre crucifix was donated to the museum by Peter Silverman, a Canadian-born collector who bought the sculpture from a German dealer in 1985 for 5,000 Deutsche marks (about $15,865 in 1985 US dollars). Although a special committee could not agree on the Louvre crucifixion’s authorship, the museum has decided to display it alongside the other Michelangelo works in its possession. Some have criticized the Capitoline exhibition for putting such disputed works on display, arguing that such inclusion brings weight to the questionable attributions. The public can decide for itself through 14 September 2014.

Florentine sculptor, Michelangelo?, Crucifix, wood, Paris, Louvre

Michelangelo, Crucifix, 1492, polychromed wood, Florence, Santo Spirito

Michelangelo (attributed to), Crucifix, polychromed wood, Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello

Visitors at the Capitoline Museum in Rome on May 27, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI.

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