The first time I visited Rome, and in particular the Basilica of St Peter’s, I was profoundly affected by Michael Angelo’s Pietas. In fact the sculpture of the Pieta is what impresses me than anything else. It’s totally mind expanding. I tell pilgrims to look at the face of the virgin. They briefly look at the sculpture and then move on to other items of interest.
The statue is on the right at the rear of the Basilica. Unless you’re really looking for it, it’s easy to miss. Very few people pause and take in the profound nature of the sculpture.
Michelangelo claimed that the block of Carrera marble he used to work on this was the most “perfect” block he ever used, and he would go on to polish and refine this work more than any other statue he created. It is a masterpiece. Just look at the folds of the Virgin’s robes.
The scene of the Pieta shows the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ after his crucifixion, death, and removal from the cross, but before he was placed in the tomb. This is one of the key events from the life of the Virgin, known as the Seven Sorrows of Mary. ( The Rosary)
It’s very difficult to photograph because there is now a bullet proof plate of glass protecting it. The flash from your camera is reflected back to you.
In 1972, a Hungarian-born man (later found to be mentally disturbed) rushed the statue with a hammer and started hitting it, including the left arm of the Virgin, which came off, and her head, breaking her nose and some of her left eye. It has been restored and no one would even know now.
The face is of a young girl, of Our Lady, when she first gave birth to Jesus. When her Son was crucified she would have been older by thirty years, yet here she is in the full bloom of her youth.
Various explanations are given as to why Michael Angelo carved her as a young maiden. However my own interpretation is different from the traditional views.
The pietas, for all the sadness and sorrow depicted, in reality Manifests the Resurrection. There is a hidden Glory in this work by Michael Angelo. It is as if he is wanting to show that even as Mary receives the body of her dead Son from the Cross, the 13th station, the Resurrection of Jesus is restoring her youth, beauty and above all her grace. Light appears to emanate from her face, a light that emphasizes her purity and loveliness. The Light is the Light of the Glorified Christ shining from from the face of the Immaculate Mother of God.
Hail, holy Queen
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee to we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
In a way it is not a ‘restoration’ of her youthful beauty and grace.. Our late parish priest used to tell the anecdote of Michelangelo explaining Our Lady’s youthful appearance as being the result of her own Immaculate Conception i.e. she was always without sin and ‘full of grace’. It is sin that ages us.
Perhaps. But I’d rather the view that her youth was restored because of the redemption wrought by her Son. She was after all one of us and Jesus also died for her. I don’t deny her immaculate status, but surely it wasn’t until her Son was raised from the dead and became the light of the world that her youth was restored as our’s will be. (hopefully).
But she was redeemed at the moment of her conception; her preparation for her glorious role in helping to bring about the Incarnation. As Wordsworth wrote, she was “Nature’s solitary boast…’ Mary was always what the rest of us hope to be eventually. After all, there are many Pietas which show a grieving, stricken suffering Mother, as she would have been whereas Michelangelo showed Mary’s ‘soul’ reflected in her face.
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Yes of course.
Thank you Malcolm.
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