Today I would like to share with you some thoughts on two Michelangelo sculptures with the same subject: Pieta.
There is a third Michelangelo Pieta in Milan, Italy, but I will not include it in this post.
Lets begin with the definition of Pieta:
“Mary with Jesus Christ’s body: a painting or sculpture of the Virgin Mary mourning over Jesus Christ’s dead body” (source: encarta)
The first and more famous is the Pieta in Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica, Pieta Chapel.
Michelangelo sculpted the Rome Pieta when he was 24 years old, in 1499. Supposedly, this is the most famous sculpture in the world, and bears the signature of Michelangelo. It must be noted that Michelangelo has not signed any other of his works.
The form of the sculpture is the most common in Christianity in and after the Medieval Ages, while the style is typical of High Renaissance. Beauty to the extreme and shining marble surfaces.
The overall feeling from the sculpture is serenity, and the controlled emotion. It is as if either the dead Christ will wake up anuy moment, so we are waiting for this to happen, or that Death is inevitable and we must find a way to cope with it without wasting a lot of energy.
The face of Jesus which we cannot see easily when we visit the chapel, more or less confirms this transient state between life and death, as if a negotiation is in progress, and Jesus takes a nap until they agree on what will happen. And what a perfect face! There is no wrinkle, not a scratch, not a single hair sticking out, only the closed eyes give an indication that this face may not be alive after all.
Mary is so young that she created a lot of comments when the Pieta was shown to the public of Rome. Michelangelo claimed that pure women never age, a statement that can be attributed to his “political” rather than artistic spirit.
She does not seem to be mourning, but coping with a difficult situation, she is almost detached from the drama, a sympathetic observer rather than the Mother of the Dead Jesus.
There is more drama in the folds of Mary’s dress than in her face.
The Florence Pieta (it is also called deposition, or the Bandini Pieta) was never finished. Michelangelo in a rage after ten years of work tried to destroy it in 1555, but he did not manage to do so. The sculpture was saved by a servant named Antonio, then bought by the Florentine Banker Bandini and repaired by one of Michelangelo’s assistants (Cacagni).
The form in the Florence Pieta is not the ordinary one. There are four figures, in a complex arrangement of twisted bodies and spread arms and legs.
Mary is on her knees trying to support the body of Jesus, but she cannot manage this on her own. The bearded man (Nicodemus?) is helping her, and at the same time is becoming the tip of the pyramid of the composition.
It is clear that Mary belongs ot the “unfinished-damaged” part of the sculpture, but it does not matter a single bit! I think that the power of the sculpture is to a large extent due to this unique and moving combination of the “finished” and the “unfinished” parts.
There is no distance between the two faces, of Jesus and Mary. They touch and blend into a powerful pair that is full of the Drama and the Despair and the Loss.
The bearded man is said to be Michelangelo himself, as according to Giorgio Vasari, the artist intended to place the sculpture on his tomb. His poweful figure is providing shelter to Mary and is also supporting the body of Jesus. His face is the epitomy of sorrow and contemplation of the Drama of Death.
From this angle we can see that the bearded man’s head is also at an angle, along with his shoulders and arms that provide to the sculpture a sense of motion that contrasts the lifeless body of Jesus.
There has been a lot of research on the events surrounding this sculpture. Even IBM have been involved, in an effort to reproduce the original before it was mutilated by Michelangelo. I leave all of this to the experts. As far as I am concerned, the Florence Pieta is one of the most powerful sculptures I have seen and I consider it as a must for every visitor of Florence.