500-yr-old rare Michelangelo painting ‘found tucked behind a sofa’

New York: Most art lovers would be overjoyed to find a rare, unfinished artwork of Michelangelo’s, but not when they find out that it was tucked behind a sofa for 27 years.

Called ‘The Mike’ by the Kober clan, the painting remained in the house, wrapped and kept in a corner until Air Force Lt. Col. Martin Kober retired in 2003 and was told by his father to do something about the painting.

Kober found Antonio Forcellino, an Italian art restorer and historian and told him of the tennis ball, and something more horrifying.

"It wasn’t the story that had scared me, but that it had been exposed to heating commonly found inside a middle-class home," The New York Post quoted Forcellino as writing in his new book, ‘La Pieta Perduta,’ or ‘The Lost Pieta.’

Forcellino assumed it to be a copy but when he saw that it was unfinished, he had his doubts.

"The evidence of unfinished portions demonstrates that this painting never, never, never could be a copy of another painting. No patron pays in the Renaissance for an unfinished copy," Forcellino said.

A scientific analysis of the painting proved that the Michelangelo claim was not so crazy - infrared and X-ray examinations of the painting show many alterations made by the artist as he changed his mind, and an unfinished portion near the Madonna`s right knee.

Forcellino added that the work was done 45 years after Michelangelo did his famed ‘Pieta,’ or pity, sculpture of Mary holding Jesus, housed in St. Peter`s Basilica. It was passed to two Catholic cardinals, eventually ending up in the hands of a German baroness named Villani.

The work ended up in the Kober family after Villani willed it to her lady-in-waiting Gertrude Young. Young was the sister-in-law of Kober’s great-grandfather and she sent the work to America in 1883, according to an account by Kober.

"I’m absolutely convinced that is a Michelangelo painting," Forcellino said.

Michelangelo expert William Wallace, a professor of architecture and art history at Washington University in St. Louis, said he saw the painting before Kober had it privately restored to remove 500 years of wear and tear.

Since there is no definitive scientific way to attribute such a painting, Wallace said it would be the weight of experts over time that would hold sway on whether it is a Michelangelo.

One thing is certain, however - the painting’s potential worth. It is now in a bank vault.

"Millions and millions," Wallace said of the lost Pieta`s value.