A Rare Michelangelo Sketch Could Be Yours for Less Than $10,000

A small sketch attributed to Michelangelo will head to auction this April at Christie's.

Old looking letter with small piece of paper depicting a square on top
The simple drawing will be sold alongside a letter written by one of Michelangelo’s descendants. Courtesy Christie's

In 1986, a drawing attributed to an associate of Michelangelo was offered up by Christie’s. Attached to the back of the work was another drawing—one created by Michelangelo himself.

Specialists in Christie’s Old Master drawings department discovered the sketch last year while examining the other work, which for decades has been kept in a private collection. They quickly realized that the small scrap of paper was the work of Michelangelo, with subsequent research confirming their attribution, according to the auction house.

The simple pen-and-ink drawing depicts a diagram of a block of marble. It comes mounted to a letter written by Cosimo Buonarroti, the last direct heir of Michelangelo.

The block sketch, which is overwritten with the word “simile” (English: similar), was originally taken from a larger sheet of Michelangelo’s diagrams of marble blocks, according to Giada Damen, a specialist in Old Master drawings for Christie’s New York. “These were either intended for the quarries that provided him with the blocks to make his sculptures, or for the shippers of these blocks,” she told Observer, adding that his diagrams often contained measurements.

The drawing was owned by Cosimo and gifted in 1836 to Sir John Bowring, an English tourist who would later become the governor of Hong Kong. The accompanying letter includes an inscription from Cosimo detailing the gift.

Michelangelo often filled single sheets with diagram sketches of marble blocks for projects like the facade of Florence’s San Lorenzo Church, the marble structures of the Sagrestia Nuova and the funerary monument of Pope Julius II in Rome, according to a post from art historian Mauro Mussolin on the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco’s website. These drawings also typically included information on transportation and the material costs of the blocks.

Where are Michelangelo’s other sketches today?

While Michelangelo destroyed most of his sketches and drawings before his death in 1564, more than 200 sheets were recovered and are now on view at Casa Buonarroti, a museum in Florence dedicated to Michelangelo’s work. Its collection contains most of Michelangelo’s diagrams of marble blocks, according to Christie’s, which estimates that fewer than ten of the artist’s works remain in private hands.

Scheduled to be sold in April alongside Old Master paintings and drawings, Chinese works of art and 18th-century French furniture in Christie’s A Park Avenue Collection auction, Michelangelo’s small marble block sketch and the accompanying letter will be offered as a single lot with an estimate of less than $10,000.

The drawing’s estimate is a far cry from Michelangelo’s auction record, which was set in 2022 when a recently rediscovered nude drawing fetched $21 million at Christie’s. The conservative estimate was influenced by both the work’s small size and its simplicity, said Damen. A more elaborate block drawing fragment had a similar estimate of £10,000 ($12,700) to £15,000 ($19,000) when it was offered up by Christie’s in 2008 and went on to realize more than £73,000 ($92,800).

“We look at similar pieces that have appeared on the market, taking into account both the passage of time and all of the aspects of the current object that make it singular,” said Damen. “It’s always hard to put a value on something as rare as this.”

A Rare Michelangelo Sketch Could Be Yours for Less Than $10,000