La Pietà (1499) is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture by the
renowned artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, housed in St. Peter's
Basilica in Vatican City. It is the first of a number of works of the
same theme by the artist. The statue was commissioned for the French
cardinal Jean de Billheres, who was a representative in Rome. The
statue was made for the cardinal's funeral monument, but was moved to
its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the
basilica, in the 18th century.
This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The theme is of Northern origin, popular by that time in France but not yet in Italy. Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pietà is unique to the precedents. It is an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism. The statue is one of the most highly finished works by Michelangelo.
The structure is pyramidal, and the vertex coincides with Mary's head. The statue widens progressively down the drapery of Mary's dress, to the base, the rock of Golgotha. The figures are quite out of proportion, owing to the difficulty of depicting a fully-grown man cradled full-length in a woman's lap. Much of Mary's body is concealed by her monumental drapery, and the relationship of the figures appears quite natural. Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pieta was far different from those previously created by other artists, as he sculpted a young and beautiful Mary rather than an older woman around 50 years of age.
The marks of the Crucifixion are limited to very small nail marks and an indication of the wound in Jesus' side.
The Madonna is represented as being very young, and about this peculiarity there are different interpretations. One is that her youth symbolizes her incorruptible purity, as Michelangelo himself said to his biographer and fellow sculptor Ascanio Condivi:
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?
Another explanation suggests that Michelangelo's treatment of the subject was influenced by his passion for Dante's Divina Commedia: so well-acquainted was he with the work that when he went to Bologna he paid for hospitality by reciting verses from it. In Paradiso (cantica 33 of the poem) Saint Bernard, in a prayer for the Virgin Mary, says "Vergine madre, figlia del tuo figlio" (Virgin mother, daughter of your son). This is said because, being that Christ is one of the three figures of Trinity, Mary would be his daughter, but it is also she who bore him.
A third interpretation is that suggested by Condivi shortly after the passage quoted above: simply that "such freshness and flower of youth, besides being maintained in by natural means, were assisted by act of God".
Yet another exposition posits that the viewer is actually looking at an image of Mary holding the baby Jesus. Mary's youthful appearance and apparently serene facial expression, coupled with the position of the arms could suggest that she is seeing her child, while the viewer is seeing an image of the future.
Finally, one modern interpretation suggests that the smaller size of Christ helps to illustrate his feebleness while in his state of death; no longer living, he now appears small in his mother's arms.
Interpreting the sculpture in terms of its name, one might trace the origin: "The duty children owed their parents, termed pietas, was associated by Romans with the duty humans owed their gods" (James S. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity, Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press, 1999).
While there was a precedent for painted depictions of Mary grieving over the dead Christ in Florentine art, the subject appears to have been novel to Italian sculpture. There was, however, a tradition of sculptured pietàs in Northern art, particularly in Germany, Poland and the Cardinal's native France. In addition, the church of San Domenico in Bologna had a German sculpted pietà. This has led some to believe that the donor had these statues in mind when the work was commissioned.
The process took less than two years. The Pietà's first home was the Chapel of Santa Petronilla, a Roman mausoleum near the south transept of St. Peter's, which the Cardinal chose as his funerary chapel. The chapel was later demolished by Bramante during his rebuilding of the basilica. According to Giorgio Vasari, shortly after the installation of his Pietà Michelangelo overheard someone remark that it was the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari. Michelangelo then carved MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T] (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made it) on the sash running across Mary's breast. It was the only work he ever signed.
La Pietà vaticana è una delle prime opere scolpite da Michelangelo,
considerata uno dei maggiori capolavori che l'arte occidentale abbia
mai prodotto. È attualmente conservata nella basilica di San Pietro in
Vaticano di Roma.
L'opera venne commissionata dal cardinale francese Jean de Bilhères.
I due personaggi principali (Cristo e la Madonna) sono estremamente levigati, a differenza del basamento, che risulta essere scolpito piuttosto grossolanamente. È in dubbio se Michelangelo abbia lasciato il basamento abbozzato per sua volontà oppure no, ma la tesi più accreditata è che lo abbia fatto di proposito, per esaltare ancor di più la divinità del Cristo e la santità della Madonna, e segnare una netta divisione tra umanità (terrena) e divinità.
Michelangelo non aveva un buon carattere, perciò quando fu esposta la Pietà al pubblico, si mischiò fra la folla per udirne i commenti. Molte erano le voci, sia che la statua fosse di natura antica , sia che fosse un'opera nordica, ma nessuna elogiava il suo lavoro. Così l'autore, infastidito dalle voci, decise di firmarla lungo la cintura che tiene la veste ("Angelus Bonarotus Florentinus faciebat"). È l'unica opera di Michelangelo firmata.
Questa scultura è pensata per essere vista frontalmente, se infatti la si osserva di lato si noterà che è schiacciata, compressa, anche solo spostandosi di poco dal centro si perdono particolari (la definizione della muscolatura, i panneggi) importantissimi.
Pietà, particolare del Cristo. È possibile riconoscere sulla destra la mano della Madonna che sembra mostrare il figlio morto ai presentiIl fatto che la Madonna abbia un volto molto giovane ha suscitato non poco scalpore all'epoca e ha lasciato spazio a diverse interpretazioni, una delle quali è suggerita dalle parole dello stesso Michelangelo al suo biografo Ascanio Condivi: "La castità, la santità e l'incorruzione preservano la giovinezza".
Michelangelo inoltre non vuole rappresentare la scena con lo scopo di narrare un episodio (la morte di Cristo) ma è principalmente interessato all'aspetto simbolico della totalità: Maria è rappresentata giovane come quando concepì Cristo, e con il gesto dimostrativo della mano sinistra pare dire al fedele che ciò che aveva previsto (la morte di suo figlio) si è avverato.
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