The Pietà: Michelangelo’s First Masterpiece


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?


This entry was posted in art, art history, Beauty, Bible, great artists, Michelangelo, Pietà, Renaissance, sculpture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Pietà: Michelangelo’s First Masterpiece

  1. Expat 21 says:

    Well, you can’t blame him for wanting credit! What I appreciate most about your posts is the human interest element!

    Expat 21

  2. cantueso says:

    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.

  3. Rich says:

    Interesting! That would open another theme: The history of personal signatures.
    When did artists start signing a sacral piece like this?

    • 100swallows says:

      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.

  4. kimiam says:

    Always a story of interest to be found here, swallows.

  5. Cam says:

    how big was this sculpture?

  6. Zaman says:

    great post, very interesting…

  7. Brian McHugh says:

    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.

    • 100swallows says:

      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.

      • Anonymous says:

        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.

  8. Pingback: La Pieta Reincarnated | The writer's niche

  9. Tracy says:

    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?

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