It was the Age of the Robber Barons, a time when Industrialists could amass huge fortunes in a manner that one muckraker termed “immoral, unethical, and unjust.” As coffers filled, these New World aristocrats sought Old World treasures to help affirm their place beside the great houses of Europe.
She was a German baroness whose house was in decline. Among her relics was a painting loosely attributed to Michelangelo. She shipped it to America in the hope that it might fetch a nice sum on the market there. There were no takers. The painting passed to an acquaintence and eventually to the hands of a middle-class Rochester family. In a manner that was certainly tongue-in-cheek, they referred to it as “The Mike.”
Some time in the 1970s, the Mike fell as it was dusted so the Kober family placed it behind a sofa where it remained until it was inherited by Martin Kober.
After retirement, the former fighter pilot took renewed interest in the work. With the help of an Italian art historian, they were unable to discount the possibility that it was painted by Michelangelo. In fact the pair are certain it was painted by the Rennaisannce master. Officially, the jury is still out.
In a recent twist to this story the painting, La Pieta With Two Angels, is headed to Rome where it will be included in an exhibition of Renaissance art. This is a good step towards acceptance by the art world. For now it will appear in the exhibition as “in the style of Michelangelo.” The distinction is important. Should the painting be accepted — if goes from Michelangeloesque to Michelangelo — it would be worth between 100 and 300 million dollars.