- Pietà, St. Peter's, Rome
- (1498/1499-1500)Commissioned from Michelangelo by the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères Lagraulas for his family chapel at St. Peter's. The contract stipulated that this was to be the most beautiful work in marble to exist in Rome, a stipulation Michelangelo may very well have achieved as his Pietà was greatly admired by his contemporaries and continues to serve as one of the prime examples of Renaissance sculpture. Michelangelo made a special trip to Carrara, well known for its white marble quarries, to find the perfect block for the execution of the work. He created a pyramidal composition with the dead Christ lying on his mother's lap, her crumpled drapery forming a backdrop for his corpse. She stretches her left arm as if revealing the Savior to the faithful. This motif stems from medieval German prototypes, usually heart-wrenching renditions that emphasize the brutality of the Passion and Crucifixion. Michelangelo instead created a restrained, quiet iconic image. Giorgio Vasari wrote in his Lives that a group of Lombards had thought that the work was carved by one of their compatriots. In the middle of the night, Michelangelo sneaked into St. Peter's and signed his name on the Virgin's strap that runs across her chest to prevent any further confusion as to the authorship of the work. Originally meant for a niche, the sculpture is now encased in heavy glass and tucked in a dark corner of the basilica. The reason for this is that, in 1972, the work was attacked by a crazed individual who broke the Virgin's nose and some of her fingers. The work has since been restored.
Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. Lilian H. Zirpolo. 2008.
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