Attributed to Michelangelo Buonarroti (Caprese 1475–Rome 1564). Young Archer (detail). Carrara marble, H. 37 in. (94.2 cm), W. 13 ¼ in. (33.7 cm), D. 14 in. (35.6 cm). On an ancient Roman triangular base. Lent by the French Republic, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.
The fragmentary marble figure of a nude youth, which is missing arms and lower legs, was retained previously in the Fifth Avenue mansion that has housed the Cultural Services office of the French Embassy for decades. It will be exhibited at the Met for ten years
The Young Archer first entered the United States after it was obtained by architect Stanford White for the Manhattan residence of Mr. and Mrs. Payne Whitney at 972 Fifth Avenue. For decades, the mansion has been the New York office of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, which displayed the marble boy in the entrance hall above a fountain designed by White. Although visible from the sidewalk, the statue remained unremarked until 1990 when it was observed by Metropolitan Museum Curator James David Draper, the first scholar to publish its whereabouts.
Draper did not then recognize the work as by Michelangelo but believed it to be by a later Florentine sculptor with knowledge of the work of Bertoldo di Giovanni, Michelangelo's mentor. In 1997 in articles in The Burlington Magazine, New York University professor Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt's attribution of the marble to the young Michelangelo caused a scholarly stir. Brandt's attribution to Michelangelo was championed by Draper and endorsed by many scholars, while others disagreed. In 1999, the Young Archer was the centerpiece of an exhibition on Michelangelo's formative years called Giovinezza di Michelangelo (The Early Years of Michelangelo) at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. There its commonalities with works by Michelangelo's contemporaries and instructors, as well as with his own early marbles--notably the unfinished relief, the Battle of the Centaurs in Casa Buonarroti, Florence--were explored. The Young Archer was then exhibited alone at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, where a dissenting curator labeled it as a work of the later 16th century.
The Metropolitan Museum's James David Draper commented: "In style and spirit, the sculpture reveals an artist bravely conscious of emulating and outdoing the art of classical antiquity. If the marble is by the very young Michelangelo – and many of us believe it shows his daring promise as a 15- or 16-year old – implications for the development of his art from intensely lyric beginnings, before he was sure of his craft and totally innocent of his future terribilità, are considerable."
The exhibition will include illustrated text panels outlining the Young Archer's history and indicating various scholarly schools of thought so that viewers can make up their minds accordingly.