Since it’s Easter week and today is #TravelTuesday I thought I would talk about a unique religious piece of artwork in a place far away. For our honeymoon my wife and I traveled to Rome. Michelangelo has always been a favorite artist of mine and I had wanted to see his work with my own eyes, so the Vatican was a “must see” destination. The Pieta is a depiction of Mary, the mother of Jesus, holding her son after his crucifixion. My picture was taken before I tried to make beautiful pictures, and it has a lot of technical flaws, but today’s post isn’t about that. It also isn’t a religious statement except that religion has inspired many mortals to aspire towards higher purposes. It’s about a work of indescribable beauty.
Here’s the mundane facts: The creation is 5’9” x 6’5" it took two years to carve 1497-1499, from a single block of marble.
First impressions: It is tiny. Well at least it seems that way for a few reasons. Many people come to see this masterpiece, so throngs of people from all over the world gather in front of it. You can’t get very close because of the restrictive area in which it resides. The Pieta was attacked in 1972 and now sits safely behind bulletproof glass, and it is far removed as to prevent further lunacy. The size of the sculpture is dwarfed because of the massive, imposing surroundings of St Peter’s Basilica.
A deeper look: To say that the sculpture is lifelike would be an understatement. The folds in the garments don’t appear to be rock hard in any way. It was as if they gently fell that way against Mary’s lap before Jesus was laid there. The youthfulness that radiates from Mary’s face is beyond illuminating. It could only be expressed as if she had an inner halo. The living warmth radiating outward from within her is juxtaposed against Jesus' limp and lifeless body. Details of muscles and bones pushing against the flesh show the power and health of a man who now lies past the struggles and toils of this world. The care and emotion Michelangelo etched into the stone ooze out of the marble with passion and sadness.
Reflections: Mary is huge compared to Jesus and that becomes obvious as soon as someone mentions it. She holds Jesus up with her right arm, which takes a great deal of strength evidenced by the marks it makes in his right side and right bicep. Not an easy thing to do for a woman of fiftyish. The scale of mother to son is all wrong, but there are other ways to see it. Perhaps Michelangelo wants us to see Mary looking down on her newborn infant and remembering days of holding her small child. She would be youthful and glowing. But now her son lies dead in her arms, her expression solemn, seeing the present despair and loss.
I have seen pictures of this piece of art many times and wondered what it would be like in person. It is indescribably different. Imagine hearing your favorite song while your head was underwater. That’s what pictures are like for this magnificent wonder. Only in life can it emote the spirit Michelangelo breathed into it.