Michelangelo`s secret drawing room in florence opens to the public for the first time

Designboom_ After nearly five decades since its initial discovery, the room believed to have served as Michelangelo’s refuge from political enemies in 1530 is now open to the public. The compact space, measuring 10 m in length, 3 m in width, and reaching a height of 2,50 m, became a canvas for the artist who sketched dozens of drawings on the walls. For the first time ever, this unique space will be accessible to the public from November 15, 2023, through March 30, 2024, and can be reached through the New Sacristy within the Medici Chapels Museum in Florence, Italy.

In November 1975, Paolo Dal Poggetto, the then-director of the Museum of the Medici Chapels, enlisted the restorer Sabino Giovannoni to conduct cleaning experiments in a narrow passageway below the apse of the New Sacristy. This was part of a preliminary inspection to find a suitable area for creating a new museum exit. Instead of fidning a new passageway, the room was discovered.

The small chamber had served as a charcoal storage space until 1955. Afterward, it was left unused, sealed and forgotten for decades beneath a trap door hidden beneath a stack of wardrobes, furniture, and furnishings. During these wall tests, the restorer discovered, under layers of plaster, a series of drawings depicting various figures. These were traced with charred and sanguine wooden sticks, often overlapping in various sizes. Most of these drawings were attributed by Poggetto to Michelangelo.

Dal Poggetto’s theory was that Michelangelo sought refuge in this small room in 1530 when Giovanni Battista Figiovanni, the Prior of San Lorenzo, hid him from the wrath of Pope Clement VII. The Pope was angry because Michelangelo, during the period when the Medici family was exiled from the city, had worked as a fortifications supervisor for the short-lived republican government (1527-1530). After about two months, presumably between the end of June and the end of October 1530, Michelangelo secured his family’s forgiveness. He then returned to his Florentine duties before ultimately leaving the city for Rome in 1534.

The drawings on the walls, still under scrutiny by art critics, were believed by Dal Poggetto to have been created during Michelangelo’s period of self-imprisonment. During this time, the artist utilized the walls of the small room as a canvas to sketch some of his projects, including works from the New Sacristy, like the legs of Giuliano de’ Medici, Duke of Nemours, references to classical antiquity, such as the head of the Laocoön, and projects related to other sculptures and paintings.

‘This very small environment is truly unique due to its exceptional evocative potential. Its walls seem to barely contain numerous sketches of figures, mostly of monumental format, traced by signs that attest to great clarity of design. These are accompanied by studies, variously accurate or summary, of anatomical details, faces, and unusual poses,’ commented Francesca de Luca, curator of the Museum of the Medici Chapels. ‘This place allows today’s visitors the unique experience of being able to come into direct contact not only with the creative process of master, but also with the perception of the formation of his myth of divine artist, taken as a model by his contemporary colleagues and by the young people enrolled in the Academy of Drawing Arts, of which Michelangelo was named Father and Master, who in 1563 established the its seat in the Sacristy’.

The secret room will be accessible exclusively by reservation, to a maximum of four people per accompanied group , up to a limit of 100 people per week . It will be open on Mondays through Saturdays. The maximum stay inside the room will be 15 minutes, accompanied by the Museum security staff. Unfortunately, since to access the room it is necessary to go down a narrow staircase, the room is not accessible to disabled people.