(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)


Marble, height 174 cm, width at the base 195 cm
Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican

The Pietà in Rome marked the turning-point in Michelangelo's fortunes. Commissioned in 1497 by the French Cardinal Jean Villiers de La Grolais (c. 1430–1499) for his own tomb, it was begun the following year and was finished by 1500. It signals the beginning of Michelangelo's maturity as a sculptor. The style of the group does not differ radically from the practice represented by the Bacchus, however. Rather it shows even greater textural richness, a characteristic noted by Vasari in his description of the inert body of Christ. This sensitively carved surface is strongly contrasted with the unpolished textures of rock and tree stump.

Although the dazzling virtuosity of the carving is less appreciated now than it was in the 16th century, there is general agreement that the Pietà is a work of unprecedented elegance. Its grace of contour is most apparent in the drapery: the tight, dampfold loincloth of Christ, the ruches and complex crinkles of Mary's robes and the controlled but generous sweep of the shroud, which both cradles and displays Christ's corpse. Much of the pathos of the group derives from this drapery. The Virgin shows no grief; her features are composed and the gesture of her left hand is designed to draw attention to her dead son.

The sculpture is signed on the ribbon across the breast: MICHAELAGELVS.BONAROTVS.FLORENTIN.FACIEBAT.