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Michelangelo’s Pieta: Vatican and Palestrina


Averett University

Art 103

Michelangelo was born in Italy in the village of Caprese in 1475. When Michelangelo was young, his family moved to Florence, a rich and powerful city in Italy. At the age of twelve, his father sent him to study with the most famous painter in the city. He became an apprentice to a famous painter in Florence named Domenico Ghirlandaio (Quill, 5). After a year or so, he stopped paining and began working as a sculptor. Michelangelo often said, “The statues carved were trapped inside the blocks of stone. My job is to free them by cutting away the stone around them” (Quill, 6). The Pieta by Michelangelo is a study in redemption through suffering, a common theme in Italian Renaissance art. The word “pieta” means pity. In Rome Michelangelo carved the masterpiece of Renaissance, the marble sculpture “Vatican Pieta” in (1498-1499). Just days after it was placed in Saint Peter’s, Rome; Michelangelo overheard a pilgrim remark that the work was done by Christoforo Solari, a rival sculpture. That night, in a rage, Michelangelo took a hammer and chisel and scrawled; “This was mad by Florentine Michelangelo Buonarroti,” or “Angelus Bonarotus Florentinus Faciebat,” on a sash across the chest of the Virgin Mary. This is the only work that Michelangelo ever signed. Later he regretted his passionate outburst of pride and determined to never sign a piece of his work again. The Vatican Pieta is a work of art that depicts the Virgin Mary supporting and mourning the dead body of Christ after he has been taken down from the cross (Pieta, Di Cagno, 58). In this less than two years, Michelangelo carved from a single slab of marble, one of the most magnificent sculptures ever created and the only surviving piece of work signed by Michelangelo. His interpretation of the Pieta was far different

from those previously created by other artist. Michelangelo decided to create a youthful, serene and celestial Virgin Mary instead of a broken hearted and somewhat older woman. This work of High Renaissance, was criticized by his detractors who that the Virgin appeared too young. This was the fist created out of four at only twenty-three years old. The Pieta is located in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and is probably the most famous pieta in the world (DiCagno 58). Take a look in figure 1 at the Pieta located in St. Peter’s Basilica (Traykov). The French cardinal Jean de Billheres, who was a representative in Rome, commissioned the statue. The statue, 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. The structure is pyramidal, and the vertex coincides with Mary’s head. The statue widens progressively down the drapery of the Virgin 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. Her monumental drapery conceals much of the Virgin’s body. The Madonna is represented as being very young, and about this peculiarity, there are different interpretations. One it that her youth symbolized her incorruptible purity, as Michelangelo himself said to his biographer and fellow sculptor Ascanio Condivi: 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? (Kostner, Thomas, Roper) The body of the dead Christ exhibits the very perfection of research in every muscle, vein, and nerve. The marks of the Crucifixion are limited to very small nail marks and an indication of the

wound in Jesus’ side. No corpse would more completely resemble the dead than does this. There is a most exquisite...
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