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Posted on Sunday, February 26 - 2006

" No one else knows what the pensioner told the priest about what he got up to when he was a naughty altar boy. But his confession holds out the tantalising possibility that there could be a lost Michelangelo on the wall of a village church in Chianti.For centuries the inhabitants of Marci..."

The fresco, attributed to Michelangelo, was discovered behind an altar in a village church in Chianti, Italy. Photography: Marco Bucco/EPA

No one else knows what the pensioner told the priest about what he got up to when he was a naughty altar boy. But his confession holds out the tantalising possibility that there could be a lost Michelangelo on the wall of a village church in Chianti.For centuries the inhabitants of Marcialla have handed down the legend that a fresco above the altar was painted by the great Florentine artist in his youth. And the claim has sometimes been referred to in scholarly texts.But it has recently been learned that, at the end of last year, a stoneslab forming part of the altar was heaved aside to reveal the first visible evidence for the claim: a monogram with the letters M, B and F intertwined.

MBF is thought to stand for Michelangelo Buonarroti (his name) and fecit (did (it) in Latin), a common way of asserting authorship, or fiorentino (the Florentine). Elsa Masi, a retired chemist and the head of a local cultural association who is leading a campaign to have the fresco examined by experts, told the Guardian yesterday that the M and B were "exactly the same" as in the lettering above a crucifix attributed to Michelangelo in the church of Santo Spirito in Florence. She said the decision to find out what lay behind the altar had been taken by the parish priest, Father Rosario Palumbo, after hearing the confession of an elderly parishioner who said that,during a prank as an altar boy, he had glimpsed the initials. Father Palumbo was not available for comment. Asked about the identity of the parishioner, Ms Masi said: "The priest didn't want to tell me." Stylistic verification of the claim will be difficult because the central part of the fresco was damaged by damp and painted over. But at least one scholar has said there is something of Michelangelo in the muscularity of the thief who stands on the right of the painting Mr Masi said it was plausible that the artist had stayed in or around Marcialla in the tumultuous period after the fall of the Medicis in January 1494. It is known that Michelangelo, a Medici protege, went into hiding at one point and that he had enjoyed the hospitality of the Augustinian order. The church of Santa Maria inMarcialla......


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