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Saint Peter's Pietà

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French cardinal Jean de Bilhères, ambassador of Charles VIII of France, asked Michelangelo for a Pietà. Welcomed by Pope Alexander VI, the Cardinal wanted to leave a souvenir to the city of Rome, and gave Michelangelo the responsibility to carry out this marble ensemble.

The pyramidal composition is a tradition of the 1400s, as well as the type of drapery that directly comes from those of the Madonna in the Annunciation of Leonardo da Vinci.

However there are some innovations:

- the Madonna's iconography with the deceased son in the arms;

- the subject, the very young Madonna, expressing a resigned gesture;

- the impeccable and refined technique.

The majority of the critics agree the iconography revives a typical Nordic subject, rather unusual for the traditional Italian sculpture that preferred other representations, as for example the deposition of Christ from the cross or the entombment of Christ.

However, in the Nordic iconography, the Virgin was represented as old and broken-hearted. Michelangelo presents his Madonna still young and with a composed face, tinged with sadness, closed in her mute, deep and human pain, expressed mainly by the inclined head. She holds the body of the equally young son with love, inviting whoever is looking to feel the same pain. But it is a pain soaked with spirituality and religious faith, understood not as a piercing desperation, but as a feeling of resignation that faces the tragedy of an unfair death and of acceptation of God's will.

This contradiction strikes the contemporaries provoking different comments. Some very strong critiques were expressed, for such original interpretation, too distant from the traditional iconography. Above all, the excessive beauty and the very young appearance of the figures were criticized, affirming that a mother could not be or seem younger than her own son. Michelangelo, according to Condivi, defended himself saying that pure women, such as Mary, kept an eternal ideal young look. Her beauty was a "divine" one, not human, so it could not be subjected to time. The composition is engraved in a pyramidal shape and the harmony between the two bodies is enhanced through the Virgin's drapery, overabundant, very plastic, with folds and deep shades. The wavy lines and the curled and tormented surfaces of the garment allude to Mary's interior agitation, which is instead mitigated by the extraordinary sweetness of her face.

Each detail is moulded with great care and the light flows and slips on the perfect smooth marble, creating suggestive translucent effects.

The Pietà is the only work signed by Michelangelo. On the diagonal strip that crosses the Virgin's breasts, it is written: "Michaelangelus Bonarrotus Florentinus. Faciebat" .

A. Cocchi

Trad. A. Sturmer


Tags:Michelangelo, sculpture, Pietà, Renaissance, Alessandra Cocchi, A. Sturmer, art, .


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Michelangelo. Pietà. 1500-01. Marble. Rome, St. Peter's Basilica. 


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