The New York Post is calling it the "the art find of the century." If true, the Michelangelo painting stored behind a Buffalo, NY family's couch for almost three decades could bring the family millions of dollars.
The Kober family had a special name for the painting: "The Mike." Family legend said it was an original Michelangelo creation, depicting a slumping Jesus in the lap of his mother Mary, making it a prominent feature on the family's wall. But when an errant tennis ball dislodged the painting sometime in the 70's, "the Kober clan wrapped it up and tucked it away behind the sofa," the Post reports. There it stayed for 27 years.
When one of the family's sons retired from the Air Force in 2003, he started looking into the claim that "The Mike" was really an original. He found an art expert who thinks it is.
"I had assumed it was going to be a copy," Antonio Forcellino, an Italian art restorer and historian, told the Post. But after flying to New York to see the piece in person, Forcellino is convinced it's not.
"In reality, this painting was even more beautiful than the versions hanging in Rome and Florence," he told the Post. "The truth was this painting was much better than the ones they had."
But Forcellino didn't just rely on his trained eye -- he turned to scientific analysis to determine the origin of the painting. Forcellino told the Post that infrared and X-ray examinations of the painting show many alterations made by the artist as he changed his mind, and an unfinished portion near the Madonna's right knee.
"The evidence of unfinished portions demonstrate that this painting never, never, never could be a copy of another painting," Forcellino said to the Post. "No patron pays in the Renaissance for an unfinished copy."
Forcellino has written a book featuring the painting's story: "La Pieta Perduta," or "The Lost Pieta," already published in Italy with a U.S. version due out next year.
"I'm absolutely convinced that is a Michelangelo painting," Forcellino added.
Since there is no way to know for sure, however, the Post quotes one expert who says the final determination of the painting's origin will come from the "weight of experts over time."