Florence's secret Michelangelo room to open for public to view drawings

It is thought that the Italian sculptor and painter hid in the tiny space in the 16th century

Inside Michelangelo's secret room, located under the Medici Chapel in Florence, Italy. EPA
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Just four at a time, visitors soon will be allowed access to a long-hidden space inside Florence's Medici Chapel where delicate charcoal drawings sketched on the walls have been attributed by some experts to Michelangelo.

The secret room – a tiny three-by-10-metre space – was discovered in 1975, when officials were searching for a new exit from the Medici Chapel to accommodate increasing visitors.

The museum's then-director Paolo Dal Poggetto “firmly believed that they were by Michelangelo,” said the current director, Paola D’Agostino. A fierce debate ensued, and continues to this day.

“The major scholars of Michelangelo’s drawings dismissed the attributions” at the time of discovery 50 years ago, D’Agostino said. “Others had a more moderate view, in the sense they thought that some could be by Michelangelo and others could be by followers. So the debate is continuing.”

The room was used to store coal until 1955, and then sealed closed and forgotten for decades below a trapdoor that was in turn hidden beneath furniture. The drawings themselves were discovered under two layers of plaster.

According to Dal Poggetto’s theory, in 1530 Michelangelo hid from “the wrath of Pope Clement VII”. He says the artist took refuge in the tiny space after supporting a short-lived republic that overthrew the Medicis, and is thought to have sketched studies for some of his projects. They include sketches believed to be the legs of co-ruler of Florence Giuliano de’ Medici, as included in the New Sacristy near the secret room’s entrance.

For most of the last 50 years, access to the room has been restricted.

Officials decided to open the room to the public on a limited basis, and will alternate exposure to LED lights with extended periods of darkness to protect the works.

Starting on November 15, up to 100 visitors will be granted access each week by reservation, four at a time, spending a maximum of 15 minutes inside the space.

Updated: November 01, 2023, 7:21 AM