The Pieta by Michelangelo

Pietra by MichelangeloA pieta is an Italian word for artworks that depict the Virgin Mary cradling the body of the dead Jesus. There are many notable pietas that have been made by various artists throughout history. Probably the most well known of all is La Pieta by Michelangelo.

Michelangelo’s La Pieta can be found in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is the only work of the famed artist that contained his signature (found on a diagonal ribbon that is carved across the Virgin Mary’s breast). His signature on the La Pieta may be an indication of his satisfaction with his work.

Prior to creating the Pieta, Michelangelo was a relative unknown in the art world. He was then in his early twenties when he was commissioned in 1498 by the French cardinal Jean de Billheres to make one as the cardinal’s funeral monument. It eventually became one of the four pietas that Michelangelo made and the only one that he was able to finish completely.

Michelangelo was able to carve out the famous La Pieta from a single slab of marble. It took him less than two years to complete what is probably one of the most magnificent sculptures ever made. This masterpiece sculpture was unique in several way to some of the pietas that were done before it.

The La Pieta is an artwork that was the first to strike a balance between the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with that of naturalism. It was also one of the first pietas made in Italy that depict the body of Jesus lying on the lap of the Virgin Mary after the Crucifixion. The La Pieta by Michelangelo was also one of the first pietas to depict a youthful and serene Virgin Mary instead of o broken hearted and more mature woman.

The structure of Michelangelo’s La Pieta is said to be pyramidal with its vertex marked to coincide with the Virgin Mary’s head. The sculpture then widens gradually towards the bottom. The figures of the statue seem to be out of proportion since it may have been difficult for the artist to exhibit a full-grown Jesus cradled in the Virgin Mary’s lap. But aside from this, the relationship between the two figures appears to be quite natural.

After the La Pieta was finished, its first home was the Chapel of Santa Petronilla which is a Roman mausoleum located at the south precept of St. Peter’s. It was later transferred to another chapel in the Basilica because rebuilding plans by Bramante required its previous location to be demolished.

The famed statue sustained some damage during the subsequent years. The four fingers on the Virgin Mary’s left hand required restoration in 1736 after they were broken while being moved. On May 21, 1972, the statue was vandalized by a mentally deranged geologist named Lazlo Toth who used a hammer to sustain certain damage on the features of the Virgin Mary. After the sculpture was painstakingly restored it was returned to its location and protected with a bullet-proof acrylic glass panel to prevent further damage from vandals.

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