Michelangelo: Pieta

            Michelangelo Buonarrati was an artist in the High Renaissance period. The Renaissance artists revived past elements of the Western heritage and sought to incorporate beauty and harmony into their works. They also focused on classical culture heritage.(1) It began in Italy in the 14th century and came to a close in the 16th century.(2) Michelangelo is one of the most influential painters, sculptors, poets, and architects, not only from this time, but in history.(3)
             Michelangelo was born in Caprese near Florence, Italy in 1475.(4) He came from a noble family, so they discouraged his interest in art. Nevertheless, Michelangelo studied under Ghirlandaio, who taught him to paint, and Bertoldo di Giovanni, who was believed to have taught him the rudiments of sculpture.(5) Though many artists in the Renaissance area worked as painters, sculptors, and architects, Michelangelo was one of the few that excelled in all three. He, himself, believed that sculpting was his forte. He believed that sculpture was the noblest form of art, and it was the “closest human approach to the divine act of creation”.(6)
            The Pieta is one of his masterworks. A French cardinal commissioned it in 1498 for his tomb chapel, which was attached to St. Peter’s. Michelangelo promised the cardinal that he would carve “the most beautiful work of marble in Rome.”(7) This amazing piece is a sculpture of the Madonna holding her dead son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is lying on her lap with his head tilted back while she looks at him with a lamenting face. Michelangelo carved it out of a single block of marble, and it is noted for “extreme delicacy and accomplished technique” which contrasted from his later sculptures, which held a more powerful and heroic feeling.(8)
            Michelangelo implemented the elements of shape, line, and form into the sculpture in an interesting way. The shape of the sculpture as a whole is a triangle; Mary’s head is the point and the forms flow outward from that place. What the viewer may not notice at first is that Mary’s shoulders and lap were created unusually large in order that she can hold the Christ figure.(9) He used line in conjunction with the pyramidal shape. Jesus’ legs on the right side help to create the right line of the triangle. The vast amount of lines used to shape the figures flow gracefully and give the viewer a sense that this sculpture is not depicting torment and hopelessness, but a divine moment between mother and child.(10) He implemented form alongside these other elements as well. The forms of the figures—Jesus’ limp body and Mary’s strong shoulders and legs—help to create the moving emotion of the piece. Mary’s bowed head seems to show that she has resigned herself to God’s will. This is believed to be one of the most expressive works of Michelangelo’s career.(11)
            The Pieta is a common religious motif used in art. It is the picture of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ on her lap. This has been depicted in many ways throughout history, and Michelangelo’s Pieta is one of them.(12) His purpose was to make as beautiful a depiction of this motif as possible. Mary is depicted as a young woman in the sculpture, which went along with the common belief in the period that chastity preserved youthfulness. The lifeless figure of Christ sharply contrasts with the beautiful and emotional depiction of the Madonna.(13) Without a doubt, Michelangelo accomplished his purpose; the sculpture is breathtakingly captivating.
            Looking at the sculpture through a Christian worldview is quite simple because the piece is depicting a biblical theme. The connection to Scripture is obvious and its beauty adds to the notion that Michelangelo was glorifying God is his work. The crucifixion was a beautiful act in itself, as Jesus Christ sacrificed his life on behalf of humanity, therefore paving the way for our salvation. The moment created in this statue is after Jesus’ death and before his resurrection, causing the viewer to think about Christ’s sacrifice. This is a good and true work of art.

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