Pieta by Michelangelo
Pietà by Michelangelo depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. This theme was of Northern European origin, and Michelangelo’s interpretation of the Pietà was unprecedented in Italian sculpture. It balanced the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty together with extraordinary naturalism. Christ’s face does not reveal signs of his suffering. Michelangelo did not want his version of the Pietà to represent death, but rather to show the serene faces and relationship of Son and Mother. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed.
The Pieta is triangular, starting with Mary’s head. The triangle then widens progressively downward with the drapery of Mary’s dress, to the rock of Golgotha. Her monumental drapery covers much of Mary’s body, and the relationship of the figures appears mystically natural. Michelangelo’s interpretation of the Pietà was far different from those previously created by other artists, as he sculpted a young and beautiful Mary rather than an older woman. With Jesus, the marks of the Crucifixion are limited to minimal nail marks and the wound on his side.
Pieta was the first of several works of the same theme by Michelangelo. A French Cardinal commissioned the statue for his funeral monument. However, its impact was such that it was instead moved to the first chapel on the right as one enters the St. Peter’s Basilica in the 18th century. After a 1972 violent attack of the Pieta, the work was restored and returned to its place in St. Peter’s and is now protected by a bulletproof acrylic glass panel.
A pietà, which means “compassion” in Italian, is a subject in Christian art depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus. Pietà is one of the prevailing artistic representations of a sorrowful Virgin Mary.
With Michelangelo’s Pieta, the body of Christ is different from most earlier pietà statues, which were usually smaller and in wood. The Virgin is also unusually youthful, and in repose, rather than the older, sorrowing Mary of most pietàs. She is depicted as a young woman to symbolize moral beauty. The Pietà is the only work of art that he ever signed, upon hearing that visitors thought a competitor had sculpted it. His signature is carved as MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T]:
“Michelangelo Buonarroti, the Florentine did it.”
Michelangelo was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the Renaissance who was born in Florence, and who had a significant influence on the development of Western art. He is one of the greatest artists of all time, and he is one of the leading representatives of Renaissance man, along with his rival, Leonardo da Vinci.
- Title: Pietà
- Artist: Michelangelo
- Year: 1498–1499
- Materials: Marble
- Dimensions 174 cm × 195 cm (68.5 in × 76.8 in)
- Type: Christian Art
- Museum: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
- Name: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
- Born: 1475 – Caprese near Arezzo, Republic of Florence
- Died: 1564 (aged 88) – Rome, Papal States (present-day Italy)
- Notable works:
Michelangelo’s Pieta Facts
- A French cardinal commissioned Michelangelo to create “the most beautiful work of marble in Rome, one that no living artist could better” as a memorial for his tomb.
- Michelangelo carved the “Pieta” from a single slab of Carrara marble, a white and blue stone named for the Italian region where it is mined.
- The “Pieta” is the only Michelangelo artwork with the artist’s name inscribed.
- Michelangelo’s signature can be found across Mary’s chest.
- Michelangelo completed the “Pieta” when he was only 24.
- The “Pieta” visited New York City during the 1964 World’s Fair while on loan.
- The 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, was the first time the statue had left Rome.
- In 1972, a delusional person damaged the “Pieta” with a hammer, the restoration took about ten months.
- During the restoration, workers discovered a secret signature hidden in the folds of Mary’s left hand, and it was an “M” for Michelangelo.
A Tour of St. Peter’s Basilica
A Tour of Rome’s Museums
“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”
Photo Credit: Carlo Pelagalli [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons