Two sculptures that languished in obscurity for more than a century may be the only surviving bronze works by Michelangelo, researchers announced in Britain on Monday.
The international research team led by Britain's University of Cambridge and the Fitzwilliam Museum uncovered new evidence linking the two nude works to Michelangelo, whose famed works include the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Standing at a metre tall, the sculptures are of a young man and an older man riding panthers, and if confirmed the discovery would make them only surviving Michelangelo bronzes in the world.
"It has been fantastically exciting to have been able to participate in this ground-breaking project," said Victoria Avery, Keeper of the Applied Arts Department of the Fitzwilliam Museum.
"The bronzes are exceptionally powerful and compelling works of art that deserve close-up study ? we hope the public will come and examine them for themselves, and engage with this ongoing debate."
The pieces were attributed to Michelangelo in their first recording in the 19th century, but this was dismissed over the last 120 years as they were undocumented and unsigned.
However, last autumn University of Cambridge Emeritus Professor of Art History Paul Joannides made a discovery that overturned this thinking.
Joannides found a drawing of a muscular youth riding a panther in a student's copy of lost sketches by Michelangelo, indicating that the artist was planning the unusual design for a sculpture.
Further study of the bronzes found them to be very similar in style and anatomy to Michelangelo's works of 1500 to 1510, the period in which scientific analysis indicates the statues were made.
Though the Italian artist is known to have completed several statues in bronze, it has long been thought none of them survived.
Michelangelo made a two-thirds size version of his famous marble statue David, but it disappeared during the French Revolution.
A twice life-size bronze statue of Pope Julius II was melted down for artillery less than three years after Michelangelo completed it.
The sculptures of the men riding panthers will be on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge from Tuesday until August. Research is continuing, and the final conclusions will be announced in July.