In an extraordinary coup, the Kimbell Art Museum has acquired the earliest known painting by Michelangelo, one of only four free-standing "easel paintings" by the Renaissance master in the world.
The Kimbell's purchase, The Torment of Saint Anthony (1487-88), will be the only painting by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) to enter the permanent collection of a U.S. museum. Two of the other paintings are in London's National Gallery and a third in Florence's Uffizi Gallery.
The opportunity to buy the work, for an undisclosed sum, came just weeks after newly appointed Kimbell Director Eric McCauley Lee arrived earlier this year. He was having lunch one day with former Kimbell Director Edmund "Ted" Pillsbury, who had heard about the painting that was being studied in the conservation studios at the Metropolitan Museum of New York. It was being studied and cleaned, and experts were weighing in. It was the right subject matter, but was it from the hand of the master?
Provenance was an issue. "I did not know anything about it," Lee said. "It sounds ludicrous when you first hear it, a painting by Michelangelo? How is it possible when there are so few? A drawing is more likely and in the realm of possibility, but a painting?"
Lee says he was skeptical, but he did more research, seeing the painting for himself in New York and meeting the curators at the Met. After hearing their arguments and reading their reports, he had the painting brought to Fort Worth for further examination.
"Our only conclusion was it was painted by Michelangelo," Lee said. "It is a powerful painting and an extraordinary opportunity to have the only painting in North America by his hand."
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