October 9, 2009 / 2:22 PM / 10 years ago

Michelangelo comes to "Cowtown" U.S.A.

FORT WORTH (Reuters Life!) - Fort Worth or “Cowtown” is best known for rodeos, cowboy hats and big pick-up trucks.

Michelangelo's first known painting, "The Torment of Saint Anthony," acquired by the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, is seen in this handout photo. REUTERS/Kimbell Museum/Handout

But art lovers also know that its Kimbell Art Museum has a first-rate collection of international works ranging from antiquity to the 20th century.

That collection has been enriched by the addition of Michelangelo’s first known painting, “The Torment of Saint Anthony,” which the Kimbell acquired in May.

It went on view as part of the museum’s permanent collection late last month.

Not only is “The Torment” Michelangelo’s only painting in the western hemisphere, it is also, in the eyes of many critics, a magnificent piece of art.

Michelangelo is believed to have been only 12 or 13 years old when he rendered the painting on a wooden panel. It is dated from 1487-88.

The artist’s most famous works include the ceiling frescoes in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel and the sculpture David in Florence.

Recent research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and other studies have shown quite convincingly that the painting is the same mentioned by the artist’s first biographers.

It is a copy of an engraving by a 15th century German master called Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons. Its inspiration is a 4th century tale about Saint Anthony the Great who was said to have levitated in the air where he was set upon by demons.

In the young Michelangelo’s rendition, the bearded Saint Anthony is under attack from an assortment of fantastic creatures — creatures which one could imagine springing from the mind of an adolescent.

“It’s perhaps not that unlike what a 12 or 13-year-old would be interested in today,” said Dr. Eric Lee, the Kimbell director, as he stood in front of the framed painting on a recent afternoon.

For his depictions of some of the monsters one early biographer of the artist says Michelangelo went to the fish market to study the scales and other physical characteristic of the fish.

Lee said he knew part of its appeal lay in its historic significance as an early work by a towering artist but he added: “I absolutely think it is a great work of art.”

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