Thierry Lenain, the author of Art Forgery: The History of Modern Obsession, said Michelangelo, who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, made copies of major works before ageing them with smoke and swapping them for the originals.
Lenain made the claims during a speech at the Institut Français in London, ArticoloTre reported.
He said the artist would often borrow works from his counterparts, copy them and then retain the original, without their rightful owners suspecting a thing.
Lenain pointed to the example of Sleeping Beauty, a Roman sculpture which Michelangelo is said to have copied and then buried in the ground to make it look like a genuine antique. He later sold it on for a considerable sum.
In comments to the UK’s Independent newspaper, Lenain said the copies earned Michelangelo “great notoriety”, which helped launch his career.
He also said that perceptions towards forgery during the Renaissance differed greatly to those that developed in later centuries.
“Far from condemning those who performed that kind of trick, they hailed them with the utmost enthusiasm,” he was quoted in The Independent as saying.