Following years of conservation work, one of Michelangelo’s largest surviving drawings will be going on display at the British Museum for three months later this spring, alongside the painting it inspired, reunited for the first time in 400 years.

Michelangelo’s huge cartoon (a full-scale preparatory drawing from the Italian word for a large sheet of paper) will be displayed for the first time since its painstaking conservation, which began back in 2018. The sketch, showing the Virgin Mary and Christ is made up of 26 sheets of paper and is among the largest Renaissance works on paper known to exist.

Michelangelo sketches (c) British Museum

For the first time in over four centuries, will reunite the sketch with the painting made from it by Michelangelo’s biographer, Ascanio Condivi. The painting, loaned from the Casa Buonarroti in Florence, shows how the elderly Michelangelo used his skill in drawing to create models for others to paint.

The sketch and painting will be the centrepiece of a wider exhibition looking at Michelangelo’s final three decades of life, after he had left Florence for Rome never to return, looking into this most demanding period of the artist’s life, focusing on how his art and faith evolved through the common challenge of ageing in a rapidly changing world.

It’s a period that saw him working four days right up to his death in 1564, aged 88.

Numerous other works will also be shown for the first time in almost two decades, including preparatory drawings from the Last Judgment, which chart how Michelangelo invented a fresh vision of how the human form would be refashioned at the end of the world. Such was the boldness of his innovation that his painting was fiercely criticized and then censored.

Loans from the British Library that will be included in the exhibition include lively letters to his young nephew will also show that Michelangelo had an irritable side, easily sparked to annoyance. Other works are being lent by the Royal Collection, including The Punishment of Tityus, showing an eagle tearing out the liver of a bound naked man, gifted to Tommaso as moral guidance for the young man.

The exhibition also looks beyond the artist to reveal his personality. Through a diverse array of his poems, letters and artistic designs, the exhibition will provide rare insights into the artist’s engaging interaction with his innermost and most trusted circle.

The exhibition, Michelangelo: the last decades opens at the British Museum on 2nd May and runs until 28th July 2024.

Tickets are on sale now from here.

Mon-Fri tickets

  • Adults: £14
  • Concessions: £12
  • National Art Pass: £7
  • Under 16s (with paying adult): Free
  • Museum Members: Free

There’s also a 2-for-1 offer for students on Fridays.

Sat & Sun tickets

  • Adults: £16
  • Concessions: £14
  • National Art Pass: £8
  • Under 16s (with paying adult): Free
  • Museum Members: Free

There are also free visits for (KS2–KS5) students organised by their school. Contact the museum for bookings.


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