Most family heirlooms are priceless to someone, but rarely are they as valuable as the painting behind Martin Kober's couch. For 27 years, the retired Air Force veteran stored an oil painting in his Buffalo, N.Y., home that his family claimed had been painted by Michelangelo. A few years ago, Kober set out to find out if "The Mike," as the family nicknamed it, was genuine. Now, Italian art historian Antonio Forcellino has declared that it is indeed the work of the Renaissance master, and could be worth up to $300 million. Is this for real?
How did Kober find out it was real?
The 53-year-old looked into the history of the painting and contacted auction houses, academics, and historians across Europe. He eventually persuaded Forcellino, an Italian art restorer, to come to Buffalo to inspect it. The trip left the Italian "breathless."
Why does Forcellino think it is a real Michelangelo?
From the moment he first saw it, Forcellino says, he was convinced that "only a genius could have painted" it. He X-rayed the picture and found that the artist had made changes and left parts unfinished, which he says proves that it is not a copy. He also claims to have discovered a reference to it in a letter written by its original owner, a friend of Michelangelo.
What is the painting like?
It is an oil painting on a 19-by-25-inch wood panel depicting Mary holding the crucified Jesus Christ — similar to Michelangelo's Pieta statue in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City, but painted roughly 45 years later. If genuine, it is one of a handful of surviving oil paintings by the Renaissance artist.
How did it get from Rome to Buffalo?
Michelangelo painted it for his friend Vittoria Colonna in 1545, according to Forcellino. It passed through the ownership of two Catholic cardinals before ending up with a German baroness, who bequeathed it to her lady-in-waiting Gertrude Young. Young was the sister-in-law of Kober's great-grandfather, and sent it to America from Germany in 1883. It has been owned by the Kober family ever since.
Why was it behind Kober's couch for 30 years?
According to Kober, "The Mike" hung on his family's wall until he and his brother accidentally knocked it down with a tennis ball in the 1970s. It wasn't damaged, but the family wrapped it up and stored it behind the sofa until 2003, when his father asked Kober to look into the painting's origins. Forcellino says he was alarmed by the tennis ball incident, but more concerned that the painting was "exposed to heating commonly found inside a middle-class home."
Is it definitely real?
Experts disagree. Forcellino remains "absolutely convinced that is a Michelangelo painting," and he says that noted Michelangelo biographer Herman Grimm reached the same conclusion when he saw it in Germany in 1868. But fellow Michelangelo expert William Wallace says that, although the painting is "very nice and very impressive," it is probably not genuine. "Michelangelo I don't think actually painted this particular panel," he told CNN. It's likely that the best indication of the painting's provenance will come not from academics, but from the collectors and dealers who may or may not bid on it at auction.