michelangelo’s pieta sculpture
When the piece was completed in 1499, it was overwhelmingly met with praise, with contemporary painter, architect, writer, historian, and Michelangelo biographer Giorgio Vasari among its most faithful fans. “It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh,” he chronicled in The Lives of the Artists.
Crafted in the late 15th century, the Pietà remains one of the most beloved sculptures in the world. Here, we take a look at this piece in order to understand how its iconography, history, and artistic characteristics have shaped such an important legacy.
The pietà developed in Germany (where it is called the “Vesperbild”) about 1300, reached Italy about 1400, and was especially popular in Central European Andachtsbilder.  Many German and Polish 15th-century examples in wood greatly emphasise Christ’s wounds. The Deposition of Christ and the Lamentation or Pietà form the 13th of the Stations of the Cross, as well as one of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin.
A famous example by Michelangelo was carved from a block of marble and is located in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. The body of Christ is different from most earlier pietà statues, which were usually smaller and in wood. The Virgin is also unusually youthful, and in repose, rather than the older, sorrowing Mary of most pietàs. She is shown as youthful for two reasons; God is the source of all beauty and she is one of the closest to God, also the exterior is thought as the revelation of the interior (the virgin is morally beautiful). The Pietà with the Virgin Mary is also unique among Michelangelo’s sculptures, because it was the only one he ever signed, upon hearing that visitors thought it had been sculpted by Cristoforo Solari, a competitor.  His signature is carved as MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T] “Michelangelo Buonarroti the Florentine did it”. 
3. Although he worked in Florence most of his life, Michelangelo sculpted the “Pieta” during a five-year period he spent in Rome. It was commissioned by Cardinal de Billheres.
One must take these words of Vasari about the “divine beauty” of the work in the most literal sense, in order to understand the meaning of this composition. Michelangelo convinces both himself and us of the divine quality and the significance of these figures by means of earthly beauty, perfect by human standards and therefore divine. We are here face to face not only with pain as a condition of redemption, but rather with absolute beauty as one of its consequences.
Another explanation suggests that Michelangelo’s treatment of the subject was influenced by his passion for Dante’s Divina Commedia: so well-acquainted was he with the work that when he went to Bologna, he paid for hospitality by reciting verses from it. In Paradiso (cantica 33 of the poem), Saint Bernard, in a prayer for the Virgin Mary, says “Vergine madre, figlia del tuo figlio” (Virgin mother, daughter of your son). This is said because, since Christ is one of the three figures of Trinity, Mary would be his daughter, but it is also she who bore him.
The structure is pyramidal, and the vertex coincides with Mary’s head. The statue widens progressively down the drapery of Mary’s dress, to the base, the rock of Golgotha. The figures are quite out of proportion, owing to the difficulty of depicting a fully-grown man cradled full-length in a woman’s lap. Much of Mary’s body is concealed by her monumental drapery, and the relationship of the figures appears quite natural. Michelangelo’s interpretation of the Pietà was far different from those previously created by other artists, as he sculpted a young and beautiful Mary rather than an older woman around 50 years of age. 
Around the time the work was finished, there was a complaint against Michelangelo because of the way he depicted the Virgin. She appears rather young – so young, in fact, that she could scarcely be the mother of a thirty-three-year-old son. Michelangelo’s answer to this criticism was simply that women who are chaste retain their beauty longer, which meant that the Virgin would not have aged like other women usually do.
Michelangelo claimed that the block of Carrara 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.