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Michelangelo’s Secret Room Posted by on Mar 4, 2015 in Art, Travel

Last week I recounted an anecdote about my visit to the Vatican Museums and how I ended up running away from the Sistine Chapel. However, as I said at the end of it, “l’anno dopo ebbi la mia rivincita con Michelangelo!” (the following year I got my payback on Michelangelo!) Here’s how:

The summer following my agoraphobic experience at the Sistine Chapel, freshly graduated in Egyptology, I was offered a part time job as a cataloguer at the Archaeological Museum in Florence. I would finish work at two o’clock in the afternoon and after a brief lunch on the beautiful steps of the nearby Spedale degli Innocenti I would spend a couple of hours wandering around Firenze visiting museums before catching the train back home. I always carried with me a letter from the director of the Archaeological Museum saying that I worked for them, and with that I had free access to all the museums and churches of the city.

One afternoon I decided to go and visit le Cappelle Medicee, famous for the monumental tombs of Lorenzo il Magnifico and Giuliano dei Medici designed by Michelangelo. I had my faithful old guide book  with me which told me: “… dalla porta di fronte all’entrata si accede (a richiesta) ad una stanza sulle cui pareti, di recente, sono stati scoperti e restaurati 56 disegni di figure umane di notevoli dimensioni, quasi tutti attribuiti a Michelangelo” (from the door opposite the entrance you can access (on request) a room, on the walls of which have recently been discovered and restored 56 large drawings of human figures. Almost all of them have been attributed to Michelangelo).

ITALY-ART-MICHELANGELO-SECRET ROOM-SAN LORENZO

I entered the Cappelle Medicee and began to look around for Michelangelo’s room, but couldn’t locate it. Then I noticed a couple of foreign tourists talking to a hesitant custodian, pointing at the wall of the chapel and then to something in their guide book. I joined them and, with my sweetest smile, swiftly unfurled my ‘magic letter’ from the Archaeological Museum. At this point the custodian capitulated and, looking around furtively, said: “Wait a couple of minutes until all the other visitors have gone and I’ll let you in”.

And so it was that, when the coast was clear, he opened a secret door cut into the wall, and led the three of us into a small vaulted corridor just 7 meters by 2. My jaw dropped … the walls were covered in the most wonderful drawings sketched out in charcoal. I was completely overwhelmed by this incredible experience: there I was, almost on my own, just an arm’s length away from Michelangelo’s drawings! I clenched my hands together in an effort not to reach out and caress the sketches.

The custodian informed us that, apparently, during la Congiura de’ Pazzi (an attempted coup against the Medici in 1530) Michelangelo hid in this room for three months, and with nothing else to do, the Maestro kept himself busy by filling the blank walls with sketches. These lovely creations were later covered over with a white stucco, probably by Michelangelo himself in the attempt to erase any traces of his hideout. And there they remain, hidden and forgotten until they were rediscovered only in 1975.

ITALY-ART-MICHELANGELO-SECRET ROOM-SAN LORENZO

I never realised how privileged I had been to be able to see these sketches in person until a few days ago. Out of curiosity, I was surfing the net trying to find out more about Michelangelo’s secret room. Initially, it was so difficult to find any information that Geoff began to kid me that I’d dreamt it all, and that the ‘secret room’ was just a fantasy. Eventually I discovered the reason for the room’s apparent disappearance: at present it is sealed off to the public due to its fragility, and it can only be experienced as a virtual tour. How boring is that!

Am I and the two unknown tourists the only people to have ever visited Michelangelo’s secret room? Perhaps you, dear reader, have seen it … or perhaps you have been lucky enough to have discovered some other secret jewel in Italy? Please share.

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Comments:

  1. Bill Auge:

    How very lucky you are Serena! I would really enjoy that experience. We were at the Cappelle Medicee, but had no idea this room existed.
    The idea of Michelangelo hiding out for 3 months is an interesting bit of history. Looking at the pictures you included the first thing I thought about was the cave paintings at Lascuax. I have not discovered any secret jewels in Italy unless you consider Lungiana.

    Ciao, Bill

  2. Scott:

    I had the pleasure of experiencing Michangelo’s room in the early ’90s. My girlfriend and I were taken to the room by her Italian cousin and it was phenomenal. To me, the most impressive sketches were those of David’s hand. The detail he took to prepare for David’s sculpture is fantastic. Look closely at his hand and notice the size relative to his age… Like a puppy growing into his body. There were several efforts in the room, magnificent.

    • Serena:

      @Scott Salve Scott! Sì, è un’esperienza indimenticabile!
      Saluti da Serena

  3. Nancy Byrne:

    Great article! I was curious when I saw the headline, wondering if it was the same room I had visited as a student in 1992. Yes, it was a fascinating hideaway, all the more impressive since we could touch the drawings, but dared not! Being in Florence and walking on the same sidewalks as Michalangelo had was incredible, but then to have access to this secret room was an experience unlike any other!! Thank you sharing and reminding me!

  4. Andrea:

    I too saw the drawings in person in the early 90’s when I was a student in Florence. I am planning a vacation with my family back to Florence and this was something I really wanted to show them. And I wanted to see it again for myself. Sad to hear it can no longer be seen by the public.

    • Serena:

      @Andrea Yes, it’s a shame that we can’t visit Michelangelo’s secret room any more! I’d love to go there again, and to show it to Geoff, but unfortunately it’s not possible.
      Saluti da Serena

  5. John George:

    While There in 2013,the new sacriste was being worked on- air conditioning was mentioned. Is it possible that drawings may be ac accessable soon?

    • Serena:

      @John George It would be nice if they reopened Michelangelo’s secret room. Unfortunately the last news I’ve read about it only mentioned a virtual tour of the gallery.
      Saluti da Serena

  6. Aurora:

    My friend just was in the room. Was in Italy on commercial business and the tour was organized through the vendor company. perhaps you just need to buy a machine or know who to bribe to appreciate this national treasure attributed to Michaelangelo. i am wondering how the charcoal gets covered with stucco, but doesn’t come off with the stucco. lack of access makes it special, like a diamond.

  7. Ms. Tommie Imbernino:

    I too have seen his room. Not once, but many times. As a travel agent, I write long itineraries for my clients. History is important to me. In Florence, this was always something I told clients to do. Then I was in Florence a few years ago, and went to the ‘door,’ only to find two guards there. I naively explained I just wanted to go downstairs and they said no, no longer. There were so many tourists now, the stairs were wearing out. So it was only virtual, and he showed me the virtual. But, like you, for someone that has been there, seen it and will never forget it, this was too sad, but how fortunate we were to have been there. For those that would like to see the virtual, as you walk into the room, look across and you will see the door. Open it and they will show you the virtual. Not as great as having experienced it directly, but nevertheless, an important thing to see.

    • Serena:

      @Ms. Tommie Imbernino Salve Tommie! Thank you for sharing your experience. We were very fortunate indeed!
      Saluti da Serena

  8. Howard:

    I have been in this room. Back in 1990. What a special privilege. I have often talked to my friends about it but nobody believes me!

    • Serena:

      @Howard Salve Howard!
      Yes, I know the feeling. Welcome to the lucky few!
      Saluti da Serena

  9. Karen:

    I will never forget seeing this cave 20 years ago, while on a student/teacher tour of Italy. An art teacher in our group requested permission, and four of us were allowed in. It was a secret, then, and the greatest stroke of luck to be granted entrance. Incredible experience. I couldn’t doubt that what we saw were studies in Michelangelo’s own hand.

    • Serena:

      @Karen Salve Karen! I’ve recently read that the room will soon be open to the public again. Speriamo!


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