Passion For Art


Michelangelos David


The Pieta


The great man considered himself to be a sculptor an architect and a poet and in 1497 he received the commission for one of his most famous works the Pieta, housed at St Peter’s in the Vatican city. The work was carved and completed in 1499 when the artist was only 24 years old.



Unlike Leonardo, Michelangelo was of noble birth. His father, Ludovico di Buonarotti, sent his son to be raised by a stone carver and his wife, since his mother was too ill to nurse him. It was because of this arrangement that the young boy learned to carve. Michelangelo later wrote, “When I told my father that I wished to be an artist, he flew into a rage, saying that ‘artists are laborers, no better than shoemakers.’ ” His father wanted him to be a man of letters, a scholar of higher learning. When Michelangelo finally convinced him to allow him to apprentice to be an artist, his talent emerged in very little time. He went on to study at the sculpture school in the Medici gardens, and when Lorenzo de Medici recognized his talent, was invited live in the Medici household. In this environment, he was introduced to the great humanist thinkers of the day, who were frequent visitors to the Medici court. He would soon travel to Rome, witnessing the great marble statues that would have a lasting impact on his art. One of first sculptures Michelangelo created upon his return from Rome was the Pieta. It is one of his most famous works, finished before Michelangelo was 25 years old. The youthful Mary is shown seated majestically, holding the dead Christ across her lap, a theme borrowed from northern European art (see Gothic Pieta at right, circa early 14th century). Instead of revealing extreme grief, Michelangelo’s Mary is restrained, and her expression is one of resignation. The theme was a compositional challenge, as previous versions of the same subject always looked awkward, with the dead Jesus practically falling off of Mary’s lap. Michelangelo adjusted the composition by enlarging Mary’s figure. We fail to notice her size because we are distracted by the folds in her drapery, the realistic portrayal of flesh and muscles, and its harmonious composition.

Just days after it was placed in Saint Peter’s, Michelangelo overheard a visitor remark that the work was done by another artist. That night Michelangelo sneaked into the Cathedral and carved an inscription on the sash running across Mary’s chestin: “Michelangelus Bonarotis Florent Facibat” (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this). This is the only work that Michelangelo ever signed. He later regretted his passionate outburst of pride and determined to never again sign a work of his hands.

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