Mother – Compassion

La Pieta - St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

La Pieta – St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

At the age of twenty-three, Michelangelo was commissioned by a French cardinal to create the Pieta for St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican as a tomb monument. He traveled to the marble quarries at Cararra in central Italy to select the block from which to make this large work. The choice of the stone was important because he envisioned the statue as already existing within the marble, needing only to be “set free” from it. It was sculpted from 1498-1500 and established Michelangelo instantly as the greatest sculptor of his time. The word Pieta means pity from the Greek word for “compassion” or “pity” and refers not, as often presumed to this specific work (Michelangelo actually did two other Pietas later in life, both of them unfinished) but to a traditional type of devotional image. The theme of Mary cradling the dead body of Christ in her lap was all but unknown in Italy before Michelangelo made it famous in this statue, but it was a staple in the repertoire of French and German sculptors and painters. Michelangelo, however, rendered the northern theme in a way never before attempted or accomplished.

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