In 1496, when he was a young man, Michelangelo sculpted a sleeping cupid. He, or an accomplice, then buried it in acidic earth to give it an appearance of great age. The plan was to pass it off as an antiquity, which would allow it to fetch a higher price.
The artificially aged sculpture was sold through a dealer to Cardinal Raffaello Riario of San Giorgio. Eventually the Cardinal learned of the forgery, and he demanded his money back from the dealer. However, the Cardinal was so impressed by Michelangelo's obvious talent that he didn't press charges against the young artist. To the contrary, he allowed him to keep his percentage of the sale.
Michelangelo’s cupid eventually came into the possession of the d’Este collection in Mantua, where it was reportedly displayed side by side with a genuine antique sleeping cupid. But it is believed that the statue was destroyed in a fire in 1698. Even though it was a "fake", it would be considered priceless today, if it still survived.
Links and References
- Jones, Mark, with Paul Craddock and Nicolas Barker (eds.). Fake? The Art of Deception. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990.
- Rubinstein, Ruth. (1986). Michelangelo's Lost Sleeping Cupid and Fetti's Vertumnus and Pomona. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 49: 257-259.