One of Queen Elizabeth II's greatest Michelangelo drawings was probably drawn by the Italian artist's 23-year-old male lover, a new study claims. And nearly 40 other drawings in British hands may be wrongly attributed to the Renaissance genius.
The study, by Swiss art historian Alexander Perrig, has prompted a storm of protest from British museums insisting that their priceless Michelangelo drawings are genuine.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman indignantly denied Perrig's suggestion that Head of a Youth, currently at Windsor Castle, is a self-portrait of Tommaso de Cavalieri, a talented protege of Michelangelo's renowned for the "incomparable beauty of his body," to whom Michelangelo wrote passionate love poems.
In his forthcoming book Michelangelo's Drawings, Perrig argues that most of the drawings attributed to Michelangelo were done by his pupils, including dozens of works in the Royal Collection, the British Museum and Oxford's Ashmolean Museum.
Before his death in 1564, Michelangelo burned many of his drawings, particularly highly erotic works. This could explain why few authentic sketches survive. Perrig argues that of the 630 drawings cataloged by leading scholar Charles de Tolnay, only 85 are authentic.
Perrig, who teaches at Trier University in Germany and has studied Michelangelo's drawings for nearly 30 years, bases his judgments on stylistic grounds.
The main evidence he cites to re-attribute Head of a Youth is an authentic drawing of Cleopatra that Michelangelo gave to Cavalieri. Perrig says Cavalieri used this as an inspiration to draw Head of a Youth.
Among other important drawings in the Royal Collection that Perrig downgrades is Resurrection of Christ, often assumed to be a study for the Medici Chapel in Florence. Perrig argues that the background hatching is a "scratchy stubble" and that the drawing is the work of Giulio Clovio.
Other drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor that Perrig attributes to Michelangelo's followers are Sketches of a Risen Christ, two versions of Christ on the Cross, Shoulder Studies and Portrait of a Girl with Mirror.
The British Museum also suffers at Perrig's hands, "losing" 15 of its Michelangelos. Twelve of the Ashmolean Museum's Michelangelos have been downgraded by Perrig.