Pietá (1498), Carrara marble, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome–174 cm × 195 cm [68.5 in × 76.8 in] A public domain Wikigallery photo, published here
This is one of the most famous statues in the world.
It is a little less than life-size, carved out of a single block of marble. Michelangelo made it when he was only 23 for a French cardinal living in Rome. Now it is in St. Peter’s Basilica. It is the only statue Michelangelo ever put his name on.
The story goes that when it was first put on display he happened to hear some men from Milan telling each other it was the work of one of their sculptors. Michelangelo couldn’t allow that. He thought it was one of the best statues ever carved and he wanted credit for it. So that night he went into the church with his hammer and chisels and candles and carved his name in big letters on the Virgin.
It reads: Michaelangelus Bonarotus Florent(inus) Faciebat
He had to really squeeze those letters together to get them all in. If he had written FECIT (the Latin perfect tense) instead of FACIEBAT (imperfect tense) he would have had a little more room.
Does the Virgin look awfully young to be the mother of a thirty-three-year-old Christ? See A Young Fifty
Does she look a little hefty or overweight? See Another Flaw in the Pietà?
Well, you can’t blame him for wanting credit! What I appreciate most about your posts is the human interest element!
I received that photo as a postcard when I was maybe about 8 years old from an aunt of mine and I never again forgot it, though I must always have seen many pictures of virgins with or without their baby and though I could not possibly have known that this was famous or different from the rest.
That aunt sent me lots of postcards from her travels, but they are all forgotten except that Pietà and one by Tiziano of an emperor on a black horse.
Interesting! That would open another theme: The history of personal signatures.
When did artists start signing a sacral piece like this?
Rich: That’s a good question. I’ll have to look into it. It would have come with the Renaissance. One thing sure: few signatures were as big and bold as this one.
Always a story of interest to be found here, swallows.
Thanks, Kimiam. But it’s easy to be interesting with stories about these geniuses.
how big was this sculpture?
Cam: 174 cm × 195 cm (68.5 in × 76.8 in)
great post, very interesting…
I was told that The Pieta was attacked by a man with a hammer. He broke off a hand and did some other damage. Tourists picked up the pieces wanting to keep a piece of the Pieta. The Pope said that if the pieces were returned then no legal action would be taken. All the pieces were returned and the Pieta was restored. I am not sure if this is true but I think it is a wonderful story.
Brian: The Pietà was vandalized all right, attacked by a crazy Hungarian geologist in 1972:
You can see the damaged statue in this gallery of vandalized art published by the New York Times:
I hadn’t read anything about how the pope got the pieces back from tourists. I’d have thought they would have been all-too-ready to turn them over to the restorers and help make the statue pretty again.
The Pietá’s left hand had already been broken and restored two hundred years earlier. Some believe the restorer changed the position of the fingers, giving a “rhetorical” touch to the group which Michelangelo never intended.
Absolutely the most beautiful scupture I have ever beheld. It made me melt when I saw it, transfixed by the pain and the love it engendered. Pure emotion, surpassing skill alone.
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Wasn’t it originally meant to be viewed from the top? I can’t find a photo of it from that angle, but would so love to see one. Any you know of?