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A key to an old Vatican mystery

February 18, 2007|From the Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — A 450-year-old receipt has provided proof that Michelangelo kept a private room in St. Peter's Basilica while working as the pope's chief architect, Vatican experts said.

While going through archives for an exhibit on the basilica's 500th anniversary last year, researchers came across an entry for a key to a chest "in the room in St. Peter's where Master Michelangelo retires."

The Renaissance painter and sculptor whose frescoes adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican was put in charge of the restoration of St. Peter's Basilica by Pope Paul III at age 71 in 1546, a job he held until his death in 1564.

Michelangelo's greatest contribution to the basilica was his design for the central dome, or cupola, a universally acknowledged architectural triumph.

"We now know that Michelangelo definitely had a private space in the basilica," Maria Cristina Carlo-Stella, who runs the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office where the basilica's archives are kept, said in an interview last week. "The next step is to identify it."

The entry for the key was in a parchment-covered volume listing the expenditures of the Fabbrica for the years 1556-58. It refers to the payment of 10 scudos to the blacksmith who forged the key, but offers no details about the chest or the location of the room.

A frescoed room with a fireplace on an upper floor traditionally has been called la stanza di Michelangelo, or Michelangelo's room.

Research, however, shows that the room was added during renovations that were made after his death.

One detail that the receipt does reveal is that Michelangelo had requested a very expensive key.

Archivist Simona Turriziani said that 10 scudos was more than the monthly salary of many of the artisans working on the basilica in the 1550s.

"The key was surely meant to keep that chest tightly locked," she said.

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