So, realistically, what were the chances that an important decorative art drawing, executed by perhaps the most important artist of the Italian Renaissance, would be discovered in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum? Well, as it turned out, pretty likely. It was no accident that in the spring of 2002, Sir Timothy Clifford, then Director of the National Museum of Scotland, began a two month project to survey the substantial collection of Italian drawings here at the museum. Rich in drawings for architecture, jewelry, textiles, and especially gold and silver metal work, the Cooper-Hewitt collection has an international reputation for housing many treasures.
Every day for weeks “Sir Tim” (as we fondly called him) examined hundreds of drawings. Finally, as he examined the contents of a box that contained drawings for lighting fixtures, he stood up and waved me over excitedly. “Do you know what you have here?” he said with a smile on his face. I said, “it is cataloged as a sixteenth-century Italian drawing for metalwork.” Sir Tim responded, “This is a drawing by the greatest draftsman of the Renaissance – it is by Michelangelo.” Later in an interview with the New York Times he remarked that he knew instantly that it was by Michelangelo as soon as he laid eyes on it. As he described his reaction, ”It was just as I recognize a friend in the street or my wife across the breakfast table.”