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

Pietà Rondanini (unfinished)

Marble, height 195 cm
Castello Sforzesco, Milan

The Rondanini Pietà is securely authentic and safely datable to the artist's very last years, but it is a shattered fragment. A radical change of plan led Michelangelo to mutilate the group so that the upper parts of the Virgin and Christ were left as shallow, ghostly presences beside a single, substantial right arm, the remnant of a previous more conventional version. A head and part of the torso belonging to the earlier scheme was discovered in 1973. The legs of Christ, which probably date from the earlier composition, also show signs of modification.

It is probable that the first carving was begun in the 1550s and the radical cutting back of the two figures took place in the very last years of Michelangelo's life. According to a letter of Daniele da Volterra, he was at work on the group only five days before his death.