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Michelangelo’s First Painting

Following a sale in 2008 and a cleaning at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, scientific investigation has left many scholars now believing that the painting known as The Torment of St. Anthony, is the first known painting by the Italian master, Michelangelo.  The oil and tempera painting on a wood panel, which was created between 1487 and 1488, depicts Saint Anthony in midair being beaten and tormented by demons.  If Michelangelo is indeed the artist behind the painting he would have been a boy of only 12 or 13 years at the time he painted it.  The Torment of St. Anthony is one of only 4 easel, or free-standing, paintings attributed to Michelangelo.

The Torment of St Anthony

The Torment of St Anthony – Michelangelo

Michelangelo’s first artistic training came from the studio of Domenico Ghirlandaio, a master in Florence.  When The Torment of St. Anthony was offered at auction in 2008, it was credited as a painting from the “workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio”.  Following technical and stylistic analysis as well as historical research the case for its authenticity as a Michelangelo painting was set.  According to biographers in Michelangelo’s day, one of Michelangelo’s first works was a painted copy of Martin Schongauer’s Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons, a black and white print, which had been widely distributed, from an engraving.  Michelangelo made his demons more animal-like than Schongauer’s with his details.  Biographers explain that Michelangelo studied the scales and colors of fish at the fish market in order to get the details just right.  The young Michelangelo also added detail to the landscape creating a sense of depth to his painting.

Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons

Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons – Schongauer

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, USA, acquired the painting in May of 2009 and it now resides in their permanent collection though it is not currently on view.  The Torment of St. Anthony is currently the only Michelangelo painting to be owned by an American collection.

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