pieta by michelangelo (1500)
Prior to sculpting the Pieta, Michelangelo was relatively unknown to the world as an artist. He was only in his early twenties when he was commissioned in 1498 to do a life-size sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding her son in her arms. It would be the first of four that he would create and the only one he completely finished. It was to be unveiled in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Jubilee of 1500.
The Pieta, which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the body of her son Jesus Christ after his death, has been created in many different forms by various painters and sculptors. Of all the great paintings and sculptures on the Pieta, however, the one by Michelangelo stands out from all the rest.
Michelangelo created the Pietà between 1498 and 1500. This Pietà is widely seen as the greatest work of sculpture ever created and marks a watershed event in the Italian High Renaissance. The lamentation of Christ was a theme popular in Northern European art since the 14th century, but Michelangelo’s interpretation of Mary holding a dead Christ in her arms is remarkable in its faithfulness to the Renaissance Humanist ideals of physical perfection and beauty.
Almost 10 years before creating the Pietà, Michelangelo created the Madonna of the Stairs, a much different portrayal. Learn more in the next section of this article.
In 1964, the Pietà was lent by the Vatican to the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair to be installed in the Vatican pavilion. Francis Cardinal Spellman, who had requested the statue from Pope John XXIII, appointed Edward M. Kinney, Director of Purchasing and Shipping of Catholic Relief Services – USCC, to head up the Vatican Transport Teams.  People stood in line for hours to catch a glimpse from a conveyor belt moving past the sculpture. It was returned to the Vatican after the fair. 
Following completion, the Pietà’s first home was the Chapel of Santa Petronilla, a Roman mausoleum near the south transept of St. Peter’s, which the Cardinal chose as his funerary chapel. The chapel was later demolished by Bramante during his rebuilding of the basilica. According to Giorgio Vasari, shortly after the installation of his Pietà, Michelangelo overheard someone remark (or asked visitors about the sculptor) that it was the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari, whereupon Michelangelo signed the sculpture.  Michelangelo carved MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T] (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this) on the sash running across Mary’s chest. The signature echoes one used by the ancient Greek artists, Apelles and Polykleitos. It was the only work he ever signed. Vasari also reports the anecdote that Michelangelo later regretted his outburst of pride and swore never to sign another work of his hands.  
MICHELANGELO IN ROME
It is one of the most important pieces the Florentine artist ever produced, possibly only matched in its significance by the statue of David, the Creation of Adam (the most famous fresco in the Sistine Chapel), by the Tondo Doni, and another Pietà, the Rondanini Pietà, which, unfinished, represents Michelangelo’s spiritual and creative testament.
This was the only work of Michelangelo to which he signed his name.
The Pieta became famous right after it was carved. Other artists started looking at it because of its greatness, and Michelangelo’s fame spread. Since the artist lived another six decades after carving the Pieta, he witnessed the reception of the work by generations of artists and patrons through much of the sixteenth century.