Pietà by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1499. (Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City) Marble. 174 cm high, 195 cm at base.
Commissioned by Cardinal Lagraulas, a representative of the French monarchy in Rome, as a funerary sculpture, this Pieta, depicting the dead Christ in the lap of his mother, Mary, solidified Michelangelo’s status in Rome as a gifted sculptor. This sculpture took two years to complete and is the only one that Michelangelo ever signed. It is comprised of two larger than life figures, Mary and Christ, with Mary seated on the rock of Golgotha, the site of Jesus’s crucifixion. Jesus is shown lacking the signs of the Passion, his face is serene and without pain. Michelangelo chose not to focus on the suffering of Christ but to illustrate the representation of the sacrament of communion between man and God, that through the body of Christ, man can ascend to heaven. It is interesting to note, as did many of Michelangelo’s contemporaries, that the Mary of this Pieta is youthful, showing no signs of a woman who by now, has a 33 year old son. Condivi, one of Michelangelo’s biographers explains that “Do you not know that chaste women stay fresh much more than those who are not chaste? How much more in the case of the Virgin, who had never experienced the least lascivious desire that might change her body?” This version of the Pieta has been copied many times over across the years but all of them lack the technical superiority of Michelangelo’s chisel.
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