what is pieta
The format of the Virgin bearing the body of Christ on her knees was standard until the 16th century, when, influenced by the Renaissance concern with logic and proportions, artists usually depicted Christ lying at the Virgin’s feet, with only his head propped against her knees. This form was adopted by Italian Baroque art and was passed on to Spain, Flanders, and Holland.
Pietà, as a theme in Christian art, depiction of the Virgin Mary supporting the body of the dead Christ. Some representations of the Pietà include John the Apostle, Mary Magdalene, and sometimes other figures on either side of the Virgin, but the great majority show only Mary and her Son. The Pietà was widely represented in both painting and sculpture, being one of the most poignant visual expressions of popular concern with the emotional aspects of the lives of Christ and the Virgin.
Although the pietà most often shows the Virgin Mary holding Jesus, there are other compositions, including those where God the Father participates in holding Jesus (see gallery below). In Spain the Virgin often holds up one or both hands, sometimes with Christ’s body slumped to the floor.
In a lesser known Michelangelo pietà, The Deposition, it is not the Virgin Mary who is holding Jesus’ body, but rather Nicodemus (or possibly Joseph of Arimathea), Mary Magdalene, and the Virgin Mary. There is some indication that the man in the hood is based on a self-portrait of the artist.  The sculpture is housed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence and is also known as the Florentine Pietà.
Michelangelo, Pieta, c. 1498-1500, marble
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.
Subsequent to its carving the Pietà sustained much damage. Four fingers on Mary’s left hand, broken during a move, were restored in 1736 by Giuseppe Lirioni, and scholars are divided as to whether the restorer took liberties to make the gesture more “rhetorical”. The most substantial damage occurred on 21 May 1972, (Pentecost Sunday) when a mentally disturbed geologist, the Hungarian-born Australian Laszlo Toth, walked into the chapel and attacked the sculpture with a geologist’s hammer while shouting “I am Jesus Christ; I have risen from the dead!”  With fifteen blows he removed Mary’s arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose, and chipped one of her eyelids. Bob Cassilly, an American sculptor and artist from St. Louis, Missouri, was one of the first people to remove Toth from the Pietà. “I leaped up and grabbed the guy by the beard. We both fell into the crowd of screaming Italians. It was something of a scene.”  Onlookers took many of the pieces of marble that flew off. Later, some pieces were returned, but many were not, including Mary’s nose, which had to be reconstructed from a block cut out of her back.
The Madonna is represented as being very young for the mother of an approximately 33-year-old son, which is not uncommon in depictions of the Passion of Christ at the time. Various explanations have been suggested for this. One is that her youth symbolizes her incorruptible purity, as Michelangelo himself said to his biographer and fellow sculptor Ascanio Condivi:
9. Among the most difficult damage to repair was Mary’s eyelid, which took approximately 20 tries before the restorers got it right.
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.