The Royal Academy of Arts in London could be looking at selling its most prised piece by Michelangelo or risk losing 150 gallery staff. The 515-year-old unfinished marble sculpture known as the Taddei Tondo was given to the London gallery in 1829 and may be worth up to £100 million. The gallery is faced with the dilemma of giving up the masterpiece to be able to keep their finances afloat.

The said sculpture was given to the academy to inspire its schools after the demise of its owner Lady Margaret Beaumont. The piece features the infant St John the Baptist and the infant Jesus Christ with the Virgin Mary. It was sculpted between 1504 and 1505. The Taddei Tondo is the only marble sculpture of Michelangelo in the United Kingdom. This is why its value remained undisclosed until 2017, when the Art Newspaper estimated that it would easily fetch at least £100 million.

Just as other art institutions have been badly hit by the pandemic, the Royal Academy is also at the edge of its finances as it considers the possibility of inevitable lay-offs which could amount to about 40 percent of affected staff. A group of Royal Academicians are instead asking the gallery to ponder on selling the Taddei Tondo sculpture to save jobs and enable the RA to sort out its financial mess.

An article from the Museum Association said the RA needs to reduce the academy's annual costs by £8 million. The gallery's statement said:

"As an independent charity, the RA does not receive funding from the government and is wholly reliant on ticket sales, friends membership, commercial activities, donors, patrons and sponsors."

It added: "The cost of staff represents the greatest proportion of RA expenditure by far. Regretfully, this means that the majority of the £8million task will have to come from salaries."

Although discussion on the sale of the sculpture has already been placed on the table, its president Rebecca Salter was said to have been "horrified" by the idea of selling such an iconic piece of art.

A spokesperson for the RA said the gallery has applied for a grant from the UK government's Culture Recovery Fund awaiting approval as it says they have no intention of selling any works in its collection.

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23 January 2018: An employee poses in front of the painting Charles I in the Hunting Field by Anthony van Dyck during a preview of the exhibition Charles I: King and Collector, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London Jack Taylor/Getty Images