Pietà (Michelangelo)

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Template:For Template:Infobox Artwork The Pietà (1498–1499) is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, housed in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. It is the first of a number of works of the same theme by the artist. The statue was commissioned for the French cardinal Jean de Billheres, who was a representative in Rome. The sculpture, in Carrara marble, was made for the cardinal's funeral monument, but was moved to its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the basilica, in the 18th century. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed.

This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The theme is of Northern origin, popular by that time in France but not yet in Italy. Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pietà is unique to the precedents. It is an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism.


The structure is pyramidal, and the vertex coincides with Mary's head. The statue widens progressively down the drapery of Mary's dress, to the base, the rock of Golgotha. The figures are quite out of proportion, owing to the difficulty of depicting a fully-grown man cradled full-length in a woman's lap. Much of Mary's body is concealed by her monumental drapery, and the relationship of the figures appears quite natural. Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pieta was far different from those previously created by other artists, as he sculpted a young and beautiful Mary rather than an older woman around 50 years of age.

The marks of the Crucifixion are limited to very small nail marks and an indication of the wound in Jesus' side.

Christ's face does not reveal signs of The Passion. Michelangelo did not want his version of The Pietà to represent death, but rather to show the "religious vision of abandonment and a serene face of the Son", thus the representation of the communion between man and God by the sanctification through Christ.

Youthful Mary

The Madonna is represented as being very young for the mother of a 33 year old son, which is not uncommon in depictions of her at the time of the Passion of Christ. Various explanations have been suggested for this. One is that her youth symbolizes her incorruptible purity, as Michelangelo himself said to his biographer and fellow sculptor Ascanio Condivi Template:Quote

Another explanation suggests that Michelangelo's treatment of the subject was influenced by his passion for Dante's Divina Commedia: so well-acquainted was he with the work that when he went to Bologna he paid for hospitality by reciting verses from it. In Paradiso (cantica 33 of the poem), Saint Bernard, in a prayer for the Virgin Mary, says "Vergine madre, figlia del tuo figlio" (Virgin mother, daughter of your son). This is said because, since Christ is one of the three figures of Trinity, Mary would be his daughter, but it is also she who bore him.


While there was a precedent for painted depictions of Mary grieving over the dead Christ in Florentine art, the subject appears to have been novel to Italian sculpture. There was, however, a tradition of sculptured pietàs in Northern art, particularly in Germany, Poland and the Cardinal's native France. In addition, the church of San Domenico in Bologna had a German sculpted pietà. This has led some to believe that the donor had these statues in mind when the work was commissioned.

History after completion

The process took less than two years. The Pietà's first home was the Chapel of Santa Petronilla, a Roman mausoleum near the south transept of St. Peter's, which the Cardinal chose as his funerary chapel. The chapel was later demolished by Bramante during his rebuilding of the basilica. According to Giorgio Vasari, shortly after the installation of his Pietà Michelangelo overheard (or asked visitors about the sculptor) someone remark that it was the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari, whereupon Michelangelo signed the sculpture. Michelangelo carved MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T] (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this) on the sash running across Mary's chest. The signature echoes one used by the ancient Greek artists, Apelles and Polykleitos. It was the only work he ever signed. Vasari also reports the anecdote that Michelangelo later regretted his outburst of pride and swore never to sign another work of his hands.<ref name="bbc">Template:Cite web</ref>


In subsequent years the Pietà sustained much damage. Four fingers on Mary's left hand, broken during a move, were restored in 1736 by Giuseppe Lirioni, and scholars are divided as to whether the restorer took liberties to make the gesture more 'rhetorical'. The most substantial damage occurred on May 21, 1972 (Pentecost Sunday) when a mentally disturbed geologist named Laszlo Toth walked into the chapel and attacked the sculpture with a geologist's hammer while shouting "I am Jesus Christ." Onlookers took many of the pieces of marble that flew off. Later, some pieces were returned, but many were not, including Mary's nose, which had to be reconstructed from a block cut out of her back.

After the attack, the work was painstakingly restored and returned to its place in St. Peter's, just to the right of the entrance, between the Holy door and the altar of Saint Sebastian, and is now protected by a bullet-proof acrylic glass panel.


Template:Refimprove section Template:External media

  • North America
    • Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, California, United States
    • The Church of Saint Joseph, Jim Thorpe, PA
    • Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, Chicago, IL - carved in Pietrasanta Italy by Spartaco Palla.
    • St. Mary's Parish, Spring Lake, MI
    • Holy Family Catholic Church in Saginaw, MI
    • St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Lakewood, WI
    • Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, MO
    • St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City, NY
    • St. Patricks Catholic Church, Imogene, IA
    • St. Jude Catholic Church, Mansfield, TX
    • Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Quebec City, Canada
    • Soumaya Museum, Mexico City, Mexico
    • Cathedral of Our Lady of Refuge, Matamoros, Mexico
    • Hamilton Memorial Gardens, Chapel of Devotion, Hixson, Tennessee, United States
  • Europe
    • Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, Pozna?, Poland – this copy was used as a model in reconstruction of original after damage in 1972Template:Citation needed
  • Australia
    • St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, Australia
  • Asia
    • St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Meenkunnam, Kerala, India
    • St. John's Cathedral, Bundang, Korea
    • Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception Manila Metropolitan Cathedral, Manila, Philippines
    • Our Lady of Remedies Parish Malate, Manila, Philippines
    • Our Lady of Atonement Cathedral, Baguio City, Philippines
    • Loyola Memorial Park Parañaque City, Philippines
    • Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, Pasay City, Philippines
    • La Verna, Bandar Lampung, Indonesia



Additional references

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