A possible 16th-century Michelangelo painting that hung for years in a local family's home is being displayed in Rome as part of an exhibit of Renaissance art, a development its owner calls a major milestone as he works to have it accepted by the art world.
Scholars disagree on whether "La Pieta With Two Angels" was painted by Michelangelo or by one of his collaborators.
For now, the 19-by-25-inch work is described as "Michelangelesque" in a show sponsored by the philanthropic Rome Foundation, which transported the painting from the Buffalo area to Rome and funded its restoration over the past six months. It will be one of 170 pieces on display from Tuesday through Feb. 12 as part of "The Renaissance in Rome: A Token to Michelangelo and Raphael."
The circa 1545 painting, which shows Mary with her arms open over the body of Jesus, whose arms are held by angels, has been restored "to near its original splendor," said owner Martin Kober, who was in Italy for the opening.
"It's a major milestone for the painting to be included in an exhibit of this caliber and hang beside generally acknowledged works by Michelangelo, Raphael and other major Renaissance painters," Kober said.
The painting was the subject of a book, "The Lost Pieta," by Italian art historian Antonio Forcellino, who's convinced it's a Michelangelo. The book was published last year, around the time Kober went public with the family heirloom and his efforts to see it take its place in art history.
For many years, the painting hung at the Kober family home, where it was affectionately known as "The Mike." Kober, who lives in Tonawanda, north of Buffalo, recalls it deflecting an errant tennis ball when he and his brothers were roughhousing as kids. It eventually was tucked into a leather art portfolio for safekeeping and was stored behind a couch for 25 years after being knocked off the wall while being dusted.
Kober began researching the painting full time following his 2002 retirement from the Air Force, and he got Forcellino to take a look. If the painting is, like the Sistine Chapel and the statue of David, the work of the Italian master, it's estimated to be worth from $100 million to $300 million.
According to Kober, the painting originally was created for Michelangelo's friend Vittoria Colonna when Michelangelo was about 70 and was passed to a Catholic cardinal, an archbishop and a family in Croatia that hung it in palaces. Kober says that through marriage it found its way to a German baroness who willed it to his great-great-grandfather's sister-in-law.
The painting, after arriving in America in 1883, hung briefly in a Syracuse museum and in a temporary exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition opening Tuesday marks the first time since 1885 that it has been publicly displayed.
Michelangelo authority William E. Wallace, after examining the painting last year, stopped short of saying it was the work of Michelangelo's brush _ but didn't rule out the possibility.
"There's never proof, unfortunately," Wallace, an art history professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said then. "You can do scientific analysis of the paint and the surface and the panel, and all that tells you is we're dealing with something old from the 16th century."
Even so, Wallace said, the painting's age and well-documented history make it deserving of display and the chance for scholarly debate about its origins.