The narrow, arched room below the Medici Chapels Museum in Florence has some suspiciously virtuosic doodles on the walls.
“The hand is very fast, showing great confidence, it makes you think,” Francesca De Luca, the museum’s director, said as she contemplated a muscular nude by the entrance. She pointed out the legs in another sketch and their resemblance to the powerful gams of a Michelangelo sculpture on a tomb upstairs.
“These have never been seen by the public,” she said.
Until now. Next month, the museum’s so-called stanza segreta, or secret room, where Michelangelo possibly hid and drew on the walls nearly 500 years ago, will open to the public.
The sketches were discovered in 1975 by Paolo Dal Poggetto, then the director of the Medici Chapels, who was hoping to create a new exit for tourists. He and his colleagues discovered a trapdoor hidden beneath a wardrobe off to the side of the New Sacristy, where the tombs Michelangelo created for members of the powerful Medici family line the walls. The door revealed stone steps that led to a room filled with coal.
In 1527, Florentines, including Michelangelo, supported a Republic and the overthrow of the Medicis. But the Medicis stormed back in 1530. Michelangelo went into hiding and slipped off the grid for a few months. Dal Poggetto had a hunch about the newly discovered room. He had the plaster walls removed, revealing charcoal and chalk drawings unseen for centuries. He believed he had found Michelangelo’s hiding place and de facto atelier.
Others doubt that Michelangelo, already in his 50s and an acclaimed artist with powerful patrons, would have spent time in such a dingy hide out. But many scholars believe that the sketches show his hand. The general public, except for a brief period in the 1990s, has been kept in the dark, out of fear that the narrow room at the bottom of a flight of steep stairs posed a safety risk for visitors, and that museum-goers would pose a threat to the drawings.
So for decades only accredited scholars, the occasional journalist and big cheeses got to see inside. King Charles III got a peek in 2018. Leonardo Di Caprio was smuggled inside. “We were very good because no one spotted him,” said Paola D’Agostino, the director of the Bargello Museums, to which the Medici Chapels belong.
In September, after years of planning slowed down by the pandemic, Ms. D’Agostino inaugurated a new grand exit, which she said opened the door for the secret room to open. The…