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79. Michelangelo's Masterpiece: La Pieta'

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

By Giulio D'Ercole -

Having spoken about Michelangelo in post N.77, as the designer of the Santa Maria degli Angeli e de Martiri in Piazza della repubblica, how could I not have a post on one of the greatest Michelangelo's masterpieces?

Obviously I am talking about La Pieta', the amazing marble sculpture portraying a sixteen years old Virgin Mary holding on her lap her thirty-three years old dying son, Jesus Christ.

The mind-blowing statue is situated in St. Peter's church, just after entering the basilica, on the right side, protected by a bullet proof acrylic glass, since in may 21st, 1972, it was badly damaged by a mentally disturbed geologist, the Hungarian-born Australian Laszlo Toth . The man rushed into the chapel and attacked the sculpture with a hammer, while shouting "I am Jesus Christ; I have risen from the dead!". He hit the Virgin Mary with fifteen blows, removing Mary's arm at the elbow, knocking off a chunk of her nose, and chipping one of her eyelids. The broken pieces flew all over and some onlookers picked up many of them Later, some pieces were returned, but many were not, including Mary's nose, which had to be reconstructed from a block cut out of her back.

It took several months before the Pieta' could be painstakingly restored and placed back to its place in St. Peter's, just to the right of the entrance, between the Holy door and the altar of Saint Sebastian.

"La Pieta'", like any other Renaissance art works has many symbolical meanings and it reflecting the artists' interpretations of their subjects. Here, in Michelangelo's depiction, the dying Jesus does not show any sign of suffering since Buonarroti did not want his version of the Pietà to represent death, but rather to show the "religious vision of abandonment and a serene face of the Son", thus the representation of the communion between man and God by the sanctification through Christ.

And why the Virgin Mary is represented like a young teen ager an not like a woman in her fifties, as she was when Jesus was crucified? There are several explanations for this, but the one we should accept the most is obviously the one given by Michelangelo himself when, talking to his biographer and fellow sculptor Ascanio Condivi, said"

Do you not know that chaste women stay fresh much more than those who are not chaste? How much more in the case of the Virgin, who had never experienced the least lascivious desire that might change her body?

Taking the Romephotofuntours workshop Churches, Angels and Art, you will have the pleasure of seeing and professionally photographing this and many other amazing art works displayed in St. Peter's church as well as in four other roman churches.

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