To compare Banksy and Michelangelo would hardly be fair to the Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet from the High Renaissance. The works he completed have stood the test of time and are at an elite level of skill and creativity. There are few artists that come close to Michelangelo in any regard. Yet it makes sense to compare him with Banksy too. Both artists were the most famous of their time and at any stage when they released a new work the art community stopped to take notice. New information may suggest that the pair had even more in common than we think.
Michelangelo had many skills. While he was primarily known for his paintings and sculptures he was never a graffiti artist. At least that was the commonly held belief until very recently. There is a small graffiti carving on the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence in Italy. When you first look at the carving it is pretty inspiring. It looks like it was done in a hurry and is a simple outline of a man’s face. While I am not sure I could carve it on the side of a town hall so quickly, most people would have the ability to draw to the same skill level within a few minutes.
However, the carving has perplexed the art world for a long time. Florence is a city that was home to many fantastic artworks, including Michelangelo’s David. Why would the town hall allow this carving to remain when so many other works vanished over time. It is clear that this average piece of graffiti was somewhat preserved. This led many art experts to believe that it was created by a renowned artist. Because ‘David’ was unveiled in Florence some speculated that it could be the work of Michelangelo.
Yet there was little proof and most people brushed aside these ideas. They pointed to the work and said it just wasn’t to the standard and level of detail that Michelangelo is renowned for. However, recently an art expert who is writing a book on Michelangelo was going through some of the artist’s drawings – which are held in the Louvre. He found a small drawing that looks exactly like the carving at Palazzo Vecchio. He was shocked.
He thought he may be tricking himself so he brought it to his wife and asked what the drawing reminded her of, immediately she said the same thing. Beside the drawing, Michelangelo had written the words “Who would ever say it is by my hand?” This small note clearly suggests that Michelangelo was behind the graffiti or at the very least was aware of it.
The inscription either means that he created the piece of graffiti without telling anyone and that it later caused a stir. He then wrote the note in his drawings as an almost guilty confession “they will never know it was me”. Or the graffiti carving was discovered while he was in Florence and he was accused by some people. Perhaps the note is sarcastic and is pointing to the base level of skill required to complete it. Maybe he is complaining that anyone could think he did it as it is so different from his other works.
Historians argue that Michelangelo was known to have a friend that looked quite similar to the carving and that he would have been in Florence at the time it appeared because he was unveiling David. This gave Michelangelo the means and the opportunity to commit the crime but did he have the motive? Only Michelangelo knows the answer to that question but perhaps Banksy would be able to offer some insight too. For now, the mystery continues.