Pietà is one of Michelangelo’s most notable works, perhaps his most famous sculpture in competition with
David, and is often regarded as the greatest sculpture ever created. It was sculpted by Michelangelo between the years of 1498 and 1500, and was likely finished before he had even reached the age of 25.
One feature that makes Pietà special is that it is the only work of Michelangelo that he ever signed. Shortly after it was placed in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Michelangelo overheard a man observing the sculpture say that it was done by another artist, named Christoforo Solari. That night, succumbing to his pride, Michelangelo used a hammer and chisel to inscribe “MICHEL ANGELUS BONAROTUS FLORENT FACIBAT”, which is Latin for “Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this” on the sash running across Mary’s breast. Later, Michelangelo greatly regretted his lapse of judgment and as a result vowed never again to sign a work of his.
The work Pietà shows Mary holding in her arms the body of Christ right after he was taken down off of the cross. One aspect that makes the sculpture unique among others of its time period is its lack of proportion, owing to the difficulty of depicting a full-grown man cradled in the lap of a woman (a theme borrowed from Northern European art). Almost all of Mary’s body is concealed by her colossal drapery, and in fact, if she were to stand up, she would be over 6’6” tall. It is also interesting that instead of exhibiting extreme grief, Mary is very restrained, with an expression of resignation. The sculpture was so beautiful that it inspired Giorgio Vasari, an Italian painter and biographer, to comment, “It would be impossible for any craftsman or sculptor no matter how brilliant ever to surpass the grace or design of this work, or try to cut and polish the marble with the skill that Michelangelo displayed.”
Learn about other Michelangelo sculptures including Moses
Head of God
Sistine Chapel - Adam
Sistine Chapel - God Dividing the Waters and the Earth
Sistine Chapel - Delphic Sibyl