Martin Kober, a retired pilot from Niagara Falls, New York had the painting passed down to him from his great-grandfather. He had once hung it in the living room where it remained for decades. Then in the mid 1970s, a stray tennis ball knocked the 15th century renaissance painter's work onto the floor. Still undamaged however, it was wrapped up and placed behind the sofa until recently.
Mr Kober hadn't realised he was sitting on a gold mine, reports Sky News
, until an expert on Michelangelo was consulted and X-ray tests were performed on the painting, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus. Often simply referred to by Mr Kober's family as "The Mike".
Antonio Forcellino, a Michelangelo biographer and art historian, is convinced the lost work is what he refers to as The Lost Pieta
is genuine. He told the Sunday Times:
I had assumed it was going to be a copy. In reality, this painting was even more beautiful than the versions hanging in Rome and Florence. The truth was this painting was much better than the ones they had! I had visions of telling them that there was this crazy guy in America telling everyone he had a Michelangelo at home.
While the Renaissance artist is best known for his statue of David and his frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, as detailed in Buffalonews.com
,the 25-inch-by-19-inch Pieta would be one of the few surviving Michelangelo oil paintings created on a wood panel.
Forcellino spent time in Buffalo examining the painting and trying to trace its history. He managed to find out that the Italian master may have passed it to a cardinal in Rome before finding its way to a Croatian baron and then a German baroness. She had passed it to her lady-in-waiting, Gertrude Young. When she died the painting was then passed to her brother-in-law who happened to be Martin Kober's great grandfather.
The first time I saw it, I was so struck by the strength of it that I felt breathless. Only a genius could have painted this; the darkness which underscores the suffering, the Virgin who looks as if she's screaming and the figure of Christ after he has been deposed from the cross. It's small, but the technique is extraordinary.
Mr Kober plans to have it restored and displayed at exhibitions in Italy next year. It has been safely promoted from the back of the sofa to a bank vault and will eventually tour the world's exclusive galleries. He didn't say whether he would sell it or not.