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Categories : Fine ART
The Pieta of Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter's Basilica) is an early work by Michelangelo Buonarroti, made in his early twenties. This is the only work that he signed. “MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T]” is carved on the crossing Mary’s chest, echoing the signatures of Greek artists such as Apelles and Polykleitos. Michelangelo Buonarroti made four Pieta, each with its own expressive characters, at different stages of his working life.
The Vatican Pieta, a marble colossal, was paid for by Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, ambassador of Charles VIII in Rome, for the church of Santa Petronilla, where he had prepared his own burial. The Pietà was completed between 1498 and 1499 and relocated to San Pietro around 1517 because of the immediate fame it obtained.
The structural model for the Pieta were the German Vesperbild, medieval sculptures representing the Pietà, or the Virgin Mary and dead Christ, mostly made of wood and not very widespread in Italy, where Christ was usually depicted as a child in the Madonna’s lap. So the model is mainly German with references to the classical world.
There are three classical references in Michelangelo’s Pieta. The depiction of Christ's body, which was perhaps taken from an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus on which the body of Meleager was represented. The face of the Virgin instead recalls the faces of Roman women from the imperial age that Michelangelo was able to study at the court of Lorenzo de' Medici. And her sash is reminiscent of Diana, Roman goddess of the hunt.
The Virgin is a very beautiful young woman with delicate features. She rests on a rock, Mount Calvary, holding the lifeless body of Jesus: his head is tilted back and his arm is dropped, aspects that will be taken up by Caravaggio and Jacques Louis David (in The Death of Marat).
The Virgin Mary appears hopeless, but modest and quiet. Her left hand is open and facing the viewer, meaning that everything is done and there is nothing more in her power. Note the formal perfection of the face and the age of the woman depicted, close to that of the dying Jesus Christ, to represent purity, holiness and incorruptibility.
The Pieta has a pyramidal composition, accentuated by the wide drape of Mary’s gown: a vertical line, represented by the Virgin, and a curve, embodied by the body of Christ intersect. The work looks like one: the Madonna contains the body of Christ, which is both curved inward and outward-looking with his arm.
The measurements, however, lack proportion: the body of Christ is small compared to the mother, probably because of the difficulty of portraying a fully grown man lying on the lap of a woman: most of the latter is in fact made up of draping fabric, making it more natural.
The signs of the crucifixion are limited to small wounds on his hands and side, while the face of Christ does not reveal signs of the Passion: Michelangelo did not want his Pieta to represent death, but a religious vision of abandonment.