Michelangelo Buonarroti 1475 – 1564


marble (174 × 195 cm) — 1499 Museum St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

Michelangelo Buonarroti biography

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Pietà is Italian for pity, as in "have pity on me". In the arts, the word is used to refer to images of the Virgin Mary and her recently deceased son. The Bible does not mention such a moment.

This clever composition shows all the master's skills. As with his David, the figures are deliberately out of proportion to achieve the desired pyramidal structure.

The right hand supports the dead body, while the left hand seems to call for compassion. Against tradition, Mary is shown as a young woman.

It is said that Michelangelo motivated his choice by arguing that Mary's virginity would have kept her from ageing normally.

This Pietà was made for St. Peter's Basilica, in Rome, where it still is on display. It is probably Michelangelo's most famous sculpture, maybe only matched by his David in Florence. It is the only work he ever signed.

The sculpture has been damaged on several occasions over the years and restored. In the 18th century part of the left hand was broken off. In 1972 a man with a hammer knocked off part of the left lower arm and damaged head and face. These days the sculpture is behind a strong glass window.

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