Michelangelo Scribble Sells For $200,000

Christie’s auctioned off a tiny sketch by the Italian Renaissance master for over 33 times its estimated value.

Apr 19, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
Diagram of a rectangular block of marble by Michelangelo Buonarroti, via Christie’s and AFP


Found on the back of a frame, a small scribble by Michelangelo sold at Christie’s in New York for $201,600, far surpassing its estimate of $6,000 to $8,000. While the Italian Renaissance master did not sign the 1.8 by 2.6 inch piece of yellowed paper, experts at Christie’s attributed the drawing to his hand thanks to its well-documented provenance. Accompanied by a handwritten letter from Michelangelo’s last known descendent, the drawing was auctioned to an unknown private buyer after a long bidding war on April 17.


The Six-Figure Scribble

Diagram of a rectangular block of marble by Michelangelo Buonarroti and its accompanying letter, via Christie’s


The diminutive Michelangelo drawing is a diagram of a block of marble. The word “simile”—Italian for “similar”—is written across the block. Created around the time Michelangelo worked on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the drawing was likely part of a larger sheet of corresponding diagrams.


Old Master drawings experts at Christie’s discovered the small scribble last year while examining another work—a framed drawing attributed to an associate of Michelangelo that sold at Christie’s in 1986. The drawing and a handwritten letter were found stuck to the back of the frame, which belongs to a private collection. The letter was written in 1836 by Cosimo Buonarroti, a descendent of Michelangelo, to Sir John Bowring, a British economist who later became the governor of Hong Kong. It offers Browning the attached drawing by Buonarroti’s “illustrious forefather Michelangelo.”


What Do Marble Block Diagrams Tell Us?

Example of a sheet of sketches of marble block diagrams by Michelangelo Buonarroti, c. 1517, via Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


Centuries after its creation, a deceptively simple marble block diagram can provide important insight into an artist’s sculptural process. Michelangelo was known to fill sheets of paper with sketches of marble blocks for monumental projects like the Sagrestia Nuova and Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence, and the tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome. He carefully recorded the size and form of various marble blocks on these sheets, as well as their cost and transportation requirements.

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Michelangelo destroyed most of his sketches and drawings before his death in 1564, making the Christie’s auction lot especially valuable. Most of his surviving marble block diagrams are owned by Casa Buonarroti, the Florence museum dedicated to the artist. They are considered significant because they demonstrate his technical precision and visionary creativity at every phase of the artistic process, from preparatory studies to final measurements.



Michelangelo’s Market Value

Nude drawing (after Masaccio) by Michelangelo Buonarroti, via Christie’s


According to Christie’s, fewer than ten works by Michelangelo are owned by private collections. It is not unusual for his work to sell for far above its asking price at auction. The last time a Michelangelo diagram sketch appeared at auction was at Christie’s in 2008. Its official estimate was between $12,500 and $18,800, and it sold for $90,000. In 2022, a figurative sketch believed to be the artist’s first-known nude sold for $24 million, more than doubling the previous record for a Michelangelo drawing sold at auction.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.