I believe Michelangelo painted it in 1506, two years before he started on the Sistine ceiling. It was already in my brain in 1971, the year after it was bought. When the Metropolitan showed it in 1971, I wrote for an exhibition called 'Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries' that the second panel recalled the figures in the Sistine Chapel. As years went by, it firmed up. I had long believed it to be by Michelangelo, but exactly when I don't know. There wasn't a moment when I suddenly said, 'This is absolutely by Michelangelo.' It was a gradual recognition.
One the clues Fahy used to make his determination involves the rocks in the painting; they resemble the quarry at which Michelangelo spent several months in 1497. The painting can be viewed larger on the Met's website.
Unlike the belongings of artists who fade gradually from view, which are sometimes scattered, pilfered or lost, Arbus's effects were in some ways frozen in time when she committed suicide at 48. Quickly her life began to acquire a cult status paralleling that of her photography.
A quick note about the Van Gogh show at the Met that's closing at the end of the month: if you're in NYC, go see it. Admittedly, I'm a fan of Van Gogh, but I thought this was one of the best museum exhibitions I've ever seen. The exhibition features drawings (as well as a few paintings) from his short 10-year career as an artist, and you can really see how much he progressed during that time and how much his drawings and paintings were related. I can't wait to go back over to the MoMA and look at Starry Night and The Postman and view them not as paintings, but more as drawings done with paint.
They wonder whether the digits contain a hidden rule, an as yet unseen architecture, close to the mind of God. A subtle and fantastic order may appear in the digits of pi way out there somewhere; no one knows. No one has ever proved, for example, that pi does not turn into nothing but nines and zeros, spattered to infinity in some peculiar arrangement. If we were to explore the digits of pi far enough, they might resolve into a breathtaking numerical pattern, as knotty as "The Book of Kells," and it might mean something. It might be a small but interesting message from God, hidden in the crypt of the circle, awaiting notice by a mathematician.
The Chudnovsky article also reminds me of Contact by Carl Sagan in which pi is prominently featured as well.
According to Wolfram Research's Mathworld, the current world record for the calculation of digits in pi is 1241100000000 digits, held by Japanese computer scientists Kanada, Ushio and Kuroda. Kanada is named in the article as the Chudnovskys main competitor at the time.
(Oh, and as for patterns hidden in pi, we've already found one. It's called the circle. Just because humans discovered circles first and pi later shouldn't mean that the latter is derived from the former.)
Small as it is, the painting has a powerful presence. It captures the eye from a distance, and commands, up close, something like complete attention. Holding the Christ child in her left arm, the Virgin looks beyond him with melancholy tenderness, while the child reaches out a tiny hand to brush aside her veil. Centuries of Byzantine rigidity and impersonal, hieratic forms are also brushed aside in this intimate gesture. We are at the beginning of what we think of as Western art; elements of the Byzantine style still linger--in the gold background, the Virgin's boneless and elongated fingers, and the child's unchildlike features--but the colors of their clothing are so miraculously preserved, and the sense of human interaction is so convincing, that the two figures seem to exist in a real space, and in real time. Candle burn marks on the frame, which is original, testify to the picture's use as a private devotional image. It is dated circa 1300.
I had the good fortune to stumble across the Duccio at the Met a few weeks ago (I was there for the Diane Arbus exhibition and passed it by accident on the way to another part of the musuem). What struck me at the time was a certain oddity of the piece...almost like it wasn't what they'd said it was but magical all the same. I know Jack about art, but after reading more about Madonna and Child, it probably seemed odd to me because it's a transitional piece, not quite Renaissance but not quite Byzantine either. The piece is a thin slice of a phase transition that had barely begun, a moment frozen from when the artists of the day were collectively working out how a Renaissance painting would eventually differ from earlier European styles and represent the wider cultural changes then occurring. Marco Grassi writes in The New Criteron:
More importantly, the artist places the Virgin at a slight angle to the viewer, behind a fictive parapet. She gazes away from the Child into the distance while He playfully grasps at Her veil. One must realize that every aspect of this composition represents a departure from pre-existing convention. With these subtle changes, Duccio consciously developed an image of sublime tenderness and poignant humanity, almost a visual echo of the spiritual renewal that St. Francis of Assisi had wrought only a few decades earlier.
More more on Duccio, check out his biography on Wikipedia and some collections of his work (1, 2, 3), including other Duccio representations of the Virgin and Child),
 I wish I'd taken an art history class in college, but my 18-yo self wasn't that interested.