Two "lost" statues have been identified as Michelangelo sculptures - and possibly the only surviving bronzes by the master, experts have claimed.
The pair, which show naked young men riding panthers, are described as "phenomenally important" and, if truly by the Renaissance master, would solve one of the great mysteries in art history.
They have been attributed to Michelangelo following a clue in a little-known 500-year-old drawing, which made the link between the bronze figures and an incomplete sketch from the days of the artist's workshop.
They could now become the only surviving bronzes attributed to Michelangelo, as experts at the University of Cambridge and the city's Fitzwilliam Museum today publicly declare their find.
The statues, which have been well known as the Rothschild bronzes for years, will go on display at the museum, along with published evidence that the authors claim proves their origins.
Critics, experts and members of the public will now be invited to share their own views on the strength of the claims, before a conference later this year aims to reach a consensus about the creator.
Michelangelo is already known to have made at least two bronze statues - a 9ft figure of Pope Julius II and a version of David, but both were destroyed. Martin Gayford, the art critic, has called the possibility of finding a surviving bronze one of the "most intriguing possibilities in art history".
The bronzes, nudes of differing ages, were once attributed to Michelangelo in the 19th century, before the claim was dismissed at a Paris exhibition in 1878.
Since then, they have been credited to various other, lesser-known sculptors.
Prof Peter Abrahams, a clinical anatomist who examined the statues, noted the figures' anatomy was "incredibly accurate and well understood", so "perfect" as to suggest only Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci could have made them. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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