Paola D’Agostino on Why the “Secret Michelangelo Room” is Still Worth Talking About

| Fri, 01/26/2024 - 11:11
Detail in the secret room

New opportunities to visit a “secret room” beneath Florence’s Medici Chapels complex that contains Michelangelo-attributed drawings are now available from April until the end of June.

Back in November, the “secret room” opened to the public for the first time; sold-out visits were already set to continue through the end of March. Though that trial period has not yet concluded, the Bargello Museums group, which includes the Medici Chapels complex, has already deemed it successful and extended the opening by three months.

Visits to the “secret room” are limited to a strict cap of four people for just 15 minutes at a time. With a maximum of 100 people allowed in per week, reservations for the new slots are already going fast. But given the remarkable response from the public, the special opening looks likely to continue for the long haul.

Shortly after the room first opened, art historian and Italy Magazine contributor Laura Morelli spoke with Paola D’Agostino, the former director of the Bargello group, who was at the helm of the project and is currently awaiting her next appointment as Italy’s state museum directors undergo a major reshuffling. 

This brief interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Paola D’Agostino shares behind-the-scenes snippets from the “secret room”

Laura Morelli: Could you help us understand the reasons for opening the secret room to the public? 

Paola D’Agostino: We were finally able to open the “secret room” to the public in November 2023 because at the end of September we inaugurated the new exit of the Medici Chapels museum. [So the right safety conditions were finally in place] to allow a limited number of visitors into the room.

LM: What measures has the museum taken to protect and conserve these drawings?

PD: A new LED lighting system was installed in 2018 and [distance sensors that prevent visitors from getting too close to the drawings] were also built in. We also monitored the room in partnership with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in the last year before opening it to the public, and we continue to monitor the room on a daily basis. There is also an interval between visits when the light is turned off so that the drawings are not exposed to prolonged light.

LM: Is there documentary evidence to support the theory of the secret room as a hiding place for Michelangelo? 

PD: No, no new documentary evidence has emerged thus far.

LM: Have these drawings inspired new scholarship about Michelangelo and his drawing technique? 

PD: [Not much so far]. I hope the regular opening of the room to the public will give the opportunity to different generations of scholars to look again — and with a fresh eye — at the drawings in the secret room.

LM: With this new opportunity for the public to view the secret room, what do you hope visitors will learn about Michelangelo and his legacy?

PD: I hope visitors to the Medici Chapels and the secret room will have a new perspective on Michelangelo’s stay in Florence, his life and his relationship with the Medici family, who had a huge influence on his life and career. The room also offers a unique opportunity to explore the practice of drawing and design during the 16th century.

If you go

“Michelangelo’s Secret Room” and the Medici Chapels
Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini 6, Florence
Open for additional small group visits through June 30, 2024
Book online