Researchers at Cambridge University say these two stunning statues are the early works of Michelangelo, making them the only surviving bronzes crafted by the famed Italian artist.

The two statues, titled "Nude Bacchants Riding Panthers," have spent over a century in relative obscurity, but a team of international experts led by the University of Cambridge and Fitzwilliam Museum have presented compelling evidence pointing to Michelangelo as the artist. If confirmed, that would make them the only surviving Michelangelo bronzes in the world.

The non-matching statues, which portray a younger and older figure riding on the back of powerful and aggressive-looking panthers, appeared in the collection of Adolphe de Rothschild in the 19th century, but because they're undocumented and unsigned, the bronzes have been credited to other artists over the years.

As the University of Cambridge now reports, new evidence has come to light which strongly suggests Michelangelo was indeed the artist:

...Prof Paul Joannides, Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Cambridge, connected them to a drawing by one of Michelangelo's apprentices now in the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France.

A Sheet of studies with Virgin embracing Infant Jesus, c.1508, is a student's faithful copy of various slightly earlier lost sketches by Michelangelo. In one corner is a composition of a muscular youth riding a panther, which is very similar in pose to the bronzes, and drawn in the abrupt, forceful manner that Michelangelo employed in designs for sculpture. This suggests that Michelangelo was working up this very unusual theme for a work in three dimensions.

This revelation triggered further art-historical research with input from a number of international experts. The bronzes were compared with other works by Michelangelo and found to be very similar in style and anatomy to his works of 1500-1510; a date confirmed by the preliminary conclusions of initial scientific analysis. Interdisciplinary research is continuing; the findings and conclusions of which will be presented at an international conference on Monday 6 July, 2015.

Very cool. The statues have been dated to around 1506 to 1508 when Michelangelo was in his early 30s.

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Historians know that Michelangelo sculpted in bronze, including a two-thirds life-size David and large statue of Pope Julius II, neither of which survives (and the latter of which was melted down for artillery). According to the Cambridge researchers, Michelangelo would have sculpted these bronzes just after he completed the marble David and just before his Sistine Chapel ceiling project.

[Via University of Cambridge]

Image and video credit: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.