La Pietà, English: The Pity; 1498–1499) is a work of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, housed in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. It is the first of a number of works of the same theme by the artist.
The statue was commissioned for the French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères, who was a representative in Rome. The sculpture, in Carrara marble, was 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. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed. Source [WikiPedia]
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- Michelangelo carved it from a single slab of marble.
Specifically, he used Carrara marble, a white and blue stone named for the Italian region where it is mined. It’s been a favorite medium of sculptors since the days of Ancient Rome.
- Pietà is the only work Michelangelo ever signed.
If you look closely, the sculptor’s signature can be found across Mary’s chest. Sixteenth century art historian Giorgi Vasari told the tale of how Michelangelo made his mark:
One day Michelagnolo [sic], entering the place where it was set up, found there a great number of strangers from Lombardy, who were praising it highly, and one of them asked one of the others who had done it, and he answered, ‘Our Gobbo from Milan.’ Michelagnolo stood silent, but thought it something strange that his labors should be attributed to another; and one night he shut himself in there, and, having brought a little light and his chisels, carved his name upon it.
Michelangelo later regretted the vanity of this act, and resolved never to sign another piece of his work.
- The piece made Michelangelo famous when he was only 24.
Thanks in part to putting his name in plain sight on the Pietà, Michelangelo’s reputation grew as the public’s love of the statue did. The artist lived to the age of 88, enjoying decades of acclaim and appreciation for his works.
- The sculpture has been criticized for Michelangelo’s depiction of Mary.
Some church observers sneered that the artist made her look too youthful to have a son who was 33 years old, as Jesus was believed to be at his death. Michelangelo defended this choice to his biographer 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?
- The Pietà was brutally attacked.
Michelangelo had a habit of shouting at his sculptures and even occasionally lashing out at them with his tools. But it was an unemployed geologist from Hungary who won infamy on Pentecost Sunday of 1972 by leaping over the railings at St. Peter’s Basilica to attack the Pietà with a hammer. With 12 blows, Laszlo Toth knocked off Mary’s left arm, snapped off the tip of her nose, and damaged her cheek and left eye.