The Cupid attributed to Michelangelo deposited at the Metropolitan Museum

Ascribed to Michelangelo (1475-1564)
New York, Cultural services of the
French Embassy
Photo : All Rights Reserved

23/06/09 – Deposit – New York, Metropolitan Museum – The cultural services of the French Embassy in the United States are located on 5th Avenue, not far from the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection. The building, constructed in 1902 by the architect Sanford White, holds a sculpture representing Cupid, long overlooked, in the entrance rotunda.

The attribution to Michelangelo, suggested by Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt, thrust it into the spotlight, raising passionate debates as is often the case with this artist’s work (see news items of 13/5/09 and 4/1/09). Although Paul Joannidès seems to support it, as Lee Rosenbaum mentions in his blog, others definitely do not. The work had been presented in a special study exhibition at the Louvre in 2000. Jean-René Gaborit, who is among those not convinced by the attribution, explained in the catalogue that there are three possible theories : it was either “proof of the influence exerted by Bertholdo di Giovanni on the young artists from the Giardino de San Marco” though hard to differentiate the different names quoted by Vasari ; or a work “which should be dated later in the 16th century and revealing proof of a certain ‘Michelangelism’, rather common in sculpture during early Mannerism and [showing] some similarities with early works by Baccio Bandinelli” although impossible to attribute definitively to him ; or finally, this might be a work by Michelangelo himself which could be related to the Cupid-Apollo by Jacopo Galli executed in 1496-1497.

The sculpture’s fate had been under discussion for the last two years, due to the conservation risks if it remained in this spot and because France is thinking about selling the building [1]. Though it seems probable that the Cupid has been there since the beginning, this is a property asset, not real estate, belonging to France, non alienable and indefeasible. The Foreign Affairs department talked to the DMF and the Départément des sculptures at the Louvre who did not claim the work, probably because that would be seen as inconsiderate towards the United States, and we can only agree on this point. Therefore, after first suggesting a possible loan to the Frick Collection, the Metropolitan Museum was chosen for a deposit. A 10-year agreement will be signed between the museum and “the French government – Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.” In exchange, the Met will offer a cast (produced by computerized 3D modelling, so without touching, thus possibly damaging, the work) which will replace the original, thereby maintaining the rotunda’s original aspect.
The Cupid will be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum starting in November.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mardi 23 juin 2009


[1] Although this decision, not yet officially approved, is very unfortunate, it seems that, contrary to the original plan, the embassy’s cultural services department will not move to Washington D.C. but will remain in New York. In any case, the building will not be sold until the real estate market bounces back.

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