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The Pieta by Michelangelo

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The Pieta by Michelangelo

Michelangelo was an Italian architect, engineer, poet, sculptor and a great Italian renaissance man who had specialized in the design of sculptures on religious subjects. He was born to a government agent in Italy on March 6, 1475 and passed on February 18, 1564. By the age of thirteen, Michelangelo had attended school and was starting his lifetime career in sculpture, design and carving by forming an apprentice with a famous Florence painter by the name of Domenico Ghirlandaio. Though influenced by Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo tried to conceal this for he wanted to convey to the people that he was a completely self-taught artist. He put an end to the business after nearly a year working as a painter and switched over to sculpture. As a result, he found himself in the roots of the Medici family which was an influential family in Italy. It was soon after the fall of the Medici family’s reign when Michelangelo fled to the Italian city of Rome, a major centre of art at the time.

In Rome, he created his very first marble sculpture at the age of twenty-three. This sculpture was the famous pieta which depicted an image of Mary holding her son Jesus Christ’s lifeless body just after he had been dropped from the cross where he had been crucified. The sculpture was a marvelous design filled with creativity and one of Michelangelo’s largest statues ever created. As a result of his success as a sculptor, he was commissioned by Pope Julius II to create a painting for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City.

In Rome, he made his very first marble sculpture the famous pieta at around the age of 23 years. The sculpture depicted an image of Mary the mother of Jesus holding the lifeless body of his son Jesus Christ just after he had been dropped down from the cross where he had been crucified. It was such a marvelous design filled with a lot of creativity and one of his very first largest statues he had made in life. Therefore, as a result of this he was commissioned by the Pope Julius II to make a painting for the ceiling of the sistene chapel in Vatican Rome. This however, came out as one of his greatest works. The sculpture covered 1,000 square yards and it depicted several episodes from the Old Testament each carrying a message about the creation of the world. For instance, they showed the scenes of Adam and Eve, the reigns of Noah and the like. Messages of the Old Testament prophets were also included accompanied by other figures (

He began his work of painting the ceiling of sistene chapel in the year 1508 and later completed in the year 1512.After his completion, Pope Julius still wanted him to design a statue for his tomb making 40 marble statues but unfortunately he was unable to complete the forty and only three were done. Pieta is a great master piece one of the greatest renowned renaissance sculpture done by Michelangelo for the St Peter’s basilica chapel in the Vatican City. It is a statue of its kind of the great works of Michelangelo themes of his artisan. Cardinal Jean De Billheres commissioned for the construction of this great statue. It was actually designed for the cardinal’s funeral monument but it was later transferred to its present location in the 18th century near the first church as you enter the basilica (

The theme or subject matter of the statue had a Northern origin which was very popular during those days in France .Michelangelo’s perception and interpretation about the statue is quite static and unique as compared those of his precedents. It was of great significance as its presence balances the renaissance ideologies and concepts of beauty with those of classical beauty and naturalism. The pieta statue is one among the most completed works of the great architect Sir Michelangelo. The structure of the pieta’s statue in pyramidal in nature. The vertexes of the statue coincide with the head of Mary the mother of Jesus. As the statue moves down the drapery dress of the Virgin Mary’s dress, it progressively widens to the base and towards the rock of Golgotha. The figures seemingly appear to be out of proportion owing to the difficulty in trying to depict the image of a fully grown man cradled in full length on top of a woman’s lap. The larger part of the virgins body seems to be concealed by the nature of her monumental drapery and however, the relationship between the figures seemingly appears to be more natural. The marks depicting the crucification of Jesus Christ appear to be minute and limited to very small nail marks a representation of the wounds on Jesus’ side (

The representation of the Madonna seems to appear very young and the peculiarity in it is said to be having three different interpretations. The first symbolism about her youth signifies the uncorrupted purity. Michelangelo explained this to one of his biographers Sir Ascanio Condivi.The second explanation about the statue and Michelangelo’s treatment about the same was greatly influenced by the passion had formed towards Dante’s Divina Commedia.

The fact that he was so acquainted with the work to an extend he went to Bologna and paid a very high hospitality through reciting various bible verses. His perception of reciting this prayer was, “Christ” being a component of the three figures of trinity, and then Mary mother of Jesus would be his daughter because she is the one who bore him. In his third explanation Michelangelo explains that such freshness observed in her youthful years is a true flower of purity which can only be maintained by natural means which was achieved through the powers of the acts of God. The exposition behind this analogy is seen when the viewer looks at the image and he/ she actually observes Mary holding baby Jesus. The youthful appearance of Marry and perhaps the serene facial expression followed by the position of her arms on baby Jesus’ body would suggest that she was actually looking at him and perhaps that is what she was seeing. On the extreme contrast another person observing the same would not read the same from looking at the diagram but actually depict an image about the future. If one had to interpret the meaning of the sculpture it would not come literally without first tracing its origin. According to pieta the duty children owed to their parents is the same duty that humans owed their gods (

Although there had existed several depictions and precedents of painted sculptures about virgin Marry crying for his son over his dead body, the art and the theme of these paintings seems to have been like novels in the Italian sculptures. This was highly influenced by the presence such pieta’s in the northern art and especially receiving much influence particularly from Poland, Germany and the cardinal’s native origin France. In addition, it was also discovered that the church of San Domenico in Bologna had such several pietas. The conclusion to this was that the person who was commissioning the construction of such pietas must have had such images in his mind.

The history of the construction of the pieta runs to eternity while the process of construction took apparently a period of two consecutive years.

Michelangelo’s interpretation about the statues remains to be static and unique far away and different from what others might have thought about. It focused on the graceful, youthful, serene, and celestial delicacy portrayed by the Virgin Mary and not the heart broken older and somewhat hopeless woman. The very initial home designed for the pieta was the chapel for Santa Petronilla who was a Roman mausoleum just near the southern transept of St Peter’s which had been chosen by the cardinal to serve as his funerary chapel. Thereafter, the chapel was later demolished by Bramante a time during the reconstruction and rebuilding of the basilica’s chapel.Afer the installation of the pieta, Michelangelo over – heard someone commend about his works this time round referring his efforts to be the great works of a different architecture. Outbursts of anger made him to go back to the drawing board and he came up with yet another different curving of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine on which its sash was curved running across Mary’s breast. This was one of his only works that he signed to confirm that he was the maker (

Overtime, the pieta has sustained several damages. For instance on the virgins left hand four of her figures were broken during a move and they were later restored back in the year 1736 by Giuseppe Lirioni.The largest and most substantial damage occurred in the year 1972 when a Geologist who was mentally challenged walked inside the chapel and decided to hammer it down claming he was Jesus. After the attack the pieta was painstakingly restored back to shape and returned back to its original place at St Peter’s just next to the right hand at the entrance and in between the holy doors and near the altar of Saint Sebastian. Today, the pieta is well protected using acrylic glass panel which is bullet proof. Later on, the sculpture was shipped to New York in the year 1964 where it was to serve as the main draw for the Vatican pavilion in New York where it is viewed by millions of people.

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