The XX Factor

Could A Kid Michelangelo Paint That?

Forget your budding little artists’ portraits of Obama , and check out Michelangelo’s “Torment of St. Anthony.” There’s a fascinating-and somewhat frustrating- article in the New York Times today about the debate over whether he did, as a 12- or 13-year-old, in fact paint the portrait, based on an engraving. The controversy has been raging for 400 years or so, so I was expecting some decisive new evidence or angle to have occasioned the headline, but was disappointed. A recent cleaning has introduced some new data in support of the notion that this is the master himself at work, not a workshop production in which he might have helped as a pupil. But experts still disagree on whether the new revelations add up to proof: The “quality” (how’s that for vague?) of the work is clearer, the now-vibrant colors call to mind the Sistine Chapel vault, and there’s a “kind of emphatic cross-hatching” on some rocks that, according to an expert, is typical of Michelangelo. But is no one looking for tell-tale signs of immaturity ? After all, even geniuses develop. On that score, here’s an amateur, totally anachronistic take: Look at the zeal expended on those demons, and tell me that doesn’t look like a brilliant young teenager at work.

Michelangelo, The Torment of Saint Anthony , c. 1487–88. Oil and tempera on panel, 18 1/2 x 13 1/4 in. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.