According to Vasari, when he was twelve or thirteen Michelangelo painted a version of The Torment of St. Anthony based on an engraving by Martin Schongauer. This was one of only four known easel paintings by Michelangelo. For centuries art historians debated the existence of such a painting.
In 2008 a painting of The Torment of St. Anthony from a private collection was sold at Sotheby's London, with an attribution from the Florence workshop of Ghirlandaio, to whom Michelangelo was apprenticed. Adam Williams, a New York dealer, bought the painting, believing that it was by Michelangelo. Williams took it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for cleaning and study. In 2009 Williams sold it to the Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
" 'I had never seen it before,” Mr. Christiansen said. “I looked at it and said this is self-evidently Michelangelo. There’s a section of the rocks with cross-hatching. Nobody else did this kind of emphatic cross-hatching.”
"Michael Gallagher, conservator of paintings at the Metropolitan, cleaned and studied the painting.
" 'It was incredibly dirty,' he said. 'But once the centuries of varnish were removed, its true quality was evident.'
"Claire M. Barry, the Kimbell’s chief curator, heard about the work and came to the Met to see it. She then contacted Mr. Lee, who also inspected it and persuaded his board to buy it. Although no one will disclose the price, experts in the field say they believe the figure was more than $6 million.
"For centuries, art historians have known that Michelangelo copied an engraving of St. Anthony by the 15th-century German master Martin Schongauer for a painting. Michelangelo’s biographer and former student, Ascanio Condivi, said the young Michelangelo told him that while he was working on the painting, he had visited a local market to learn how to depict fish scales, a feature not found in the engraving.
"A painting of St. Anthony is also mentioned in Giorgio Vasari’s chronicle of Michelangelo’s life, although Vasari at first ascribed the original engraving to Dürer. But after Michelangelo complained, Vasari changed his account, naming Schongauer.
"Measuring 18 ½ inches by 13 1/4 inches, 'The Torment of St. Anthony' is at least one-third larger than the engraving. It is also not an exact copy; Michelangelo took liberties. In addition to adding the fish scales, he depicted St. Anthony holding his head more erect and with an expression more detached than sad.
"He also added a landscape to the bottom of the composition, and created monsters that are more dramatic than those in the engraving.
"Mr. Christiansen said studying 'The Torment of St. Anthony' with infrared reflectography had exposed layers of pentimenti, or under drawing, revealing what he called the master’s hand at work. And once the centuries of varnish were removed, the colors suddenly came alive. There is eggplant, lavender, apple green and even a brilliant salmon, which was used to depict the scales of the spiny demons. The palette, Mr. Christiansen said, is a prelude to the colors chosen for the Sistine Chapel’s vault" (Vogel, "By the Hand of a Very Young Master?," NY Times, May 12, 2009).