Imagine the genius of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s mind trapped in a little room for two months; it had to be somehow expressed, and those four walls became the fortuitous canvas that welcomed Michelangelo’s scientific art.

Michelangelo hid out in the tiny cell, lying beneath the Medici Chapels – a mausoleum for members of the  powerful family-, in 1530, when he was trying to escape from the revenge of his patrons, the Medici, after he supported a popular revolt against their rule. “I hid in a tiny cell, entombed like the dead Medici above, though hiding from a live one. To forget my fears, I filled the walls with drawings,” he later recalled. And while hiding, he produced exquisite sketches of human figures drawing with charcoal and chalk on the walls. He abandoned his refuge after being pardoned by the Medici who allowed him to complete the above chapel that they had commissioned him.

The existence of the secret underground room remained unknown for centuries, until its accidental discovery in 1975, when custodians, beneath a wardrobe, came across a trapdoor that opened on a flight of narrow stone steps which led down to a small rectangular room. Mold and grime covered the walls and the faint outlines of the drawings were barely visible, but a careful restoration revealed sketches similar to some of Michelangelo’s breathtaking works, like his statue of David and paintings in the Sistine Chapel.

The director of the Bargello Museum, which manages the Medici Chapels, Paola D’Agostino said that works are underway to make the room safe for the public within three years. The access will be limited to a few visitors at a time because, as Monica Bietti, the director of the Medici Chapels, points out: “To reach it you have to go down a very narrow, very steep staircase which cannot be widened.” However, the Michelangelo’s hideout can is virtually-accessible thanks to the virtual images of the room produced by the museum to allow visitors to admire it without entering it.

Ilona Catani Scarlett

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