Michelangelo: Pietà

Michelangelo Buonarroti, a Renaissance artist, is one of the most famous and respected artists in history. I couldn’t run an Art History blog and not talk about any of his works. He had true artistic talent right from the start. One of his earliest and most well-known masterpieces, produced when he was just in his early twenties, is the Pietà.

Pietà, 1498-1500, Saint Peter’s, Vatican City, Rome

Pietà is a subject of Christian art depicting Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus after his crucifixion, often found in sculpture. (When Mary and Jesus are depicted with other figures surrounding them, the subject is called Lamentation, not Pietà.) The Pietà theme is very common throughout French and German art, especially during the Renaissance period. However, Michelangelo’s Pietà is by far one of the most famous ones.

Michelangelo produced this sculpture for the French cardinal Jean de Bilhères Lagraulas. The cardinal commissioned this statue to decorate the chapel in Old Saint Peter’s, where he was supposed to be buried. In Michelangelo’s version of the Pietà, he transformed marble into seemingly real fabric, flesh, and hair. Looking at the sculpture, one can “feel” the variety of different textures. His sculpture exudes naturalism and is a prime example of sculptures during the Renaissance. The luminosity and the polish on the marble can not be captured by a photo.

A controversy surrounding Michelangelo’s Pietà, since the day the sculpture has been unveiled, is Mary’s age. Critics have argued that she seems too young and youthful, even more so than her son. Michelangelo, in response, defends his work by explaining that Mary’s ageless beauty is a part of her purity and virginity. What I also find interesting in this sculpture is how Christ seems more to have drifted off into a peaceful sleep than to have died. His wounds are barely visible.

This is absolutely one of my favorite sculptures. It is very well done, and not just because it was created by one of the most famous artists in history. I am completely blown away by this Michelangelo’s rendition of the Pietà because I think that it captures naturalism and emotion so well. In the sculpture, the folds in Mary’s seem so lifelike and the way that the weight of Jesus’ dead body hangs seems so realistic as well. Through this sculpture, Michelangelo also captures the true grief that a mother feels holding her dead son and the love that a mother has for her child.

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