MARY A MASTERPIECE – ‘Pieta’ by Michelangelo, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, 1498 – 1499

 Pietà, Italian for ‘pity’ and Latin for ‘piety’, is a heart-wrenching depiction of the Blessed Virgin cradling the dead body of her Son Jesus in her loving arms. Bearing no scriptural reference, the Pieta developed as a thirteenth-century German devotion and was regarded as the Vesperbild or ‘the evening picture’. However, you will agree that the word Pieta is synonymous with Michelangelo’s famous masterpiece. Through this article, we will explore to experience its artistic beauty and belief.

In 1497, a twenty-four-year-old Michelangelo was commissioned by the French Cardinal Jean de Bilheres to create ‘the most beautiful work of marble in Rome’ for his future tomb. The artist did not hesitate to rise to the patron’s challenge. He scouted and secured the perfect block of Carrara marble and chiseled stone to flesh. So sublime and admirable was its execution that art-historian Giorgio Vasari praised Michelangelo’s genius saying:

‘It is indeed a miracle that a block of stone, formless at the beginning, was brought to such perfection which nature habitually struggles to create in flesh! No other sculptor, not even the rarest artist with all his hard work, can ever reach this level of design and grace.’

 But what makes this sculpture so special? Undoubtedly it is the profound relation shared by the Mother and her Son. She who cradled her little baby now carries her dead Son. Adhering to the ideals of the Renaissance,  Michelangelo augments this affiliation through naturalism. Pyramidal in shape, the body of the beautiful Virgin is enlarged. This was suited to carry the physique of a fully grown man, her Son into her lap.

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