In 1498 after Christ, Michelangelo, only 22 years old, writes a contract, guaranteed by Jacopo Galli, with the French Cardinal of San Dionigi, for the realization, within a year, of a “Pietà” (pity) in marble destined to be placed in the Basilica of San Pietro.
On a piece of marble personally chosen in the pits of Carrara, Michelangelo represents the isolated aspects of the Virgin Mary holding in her arms the body of the Christ right after it was taken down from the Crosse, according to an iconography that, during this period, had found a large consensus on the other side of the Alps. 1.74cm high, the “Pietà” of Michelangelo presents strong particularities in the anatomy and also in the finishes of the drapes, with translucent effects of accentuated by the way in which the light seemed to caress the marble superficies.
One of the things that most surprises on the sculpture is the aspect extremely young the artist wanted to give to the face of the Virgin Mary; this choice, strongly criticized by the contemporaneous, finds its justification in the abstract character of the composition.
In the intentions of the sculptor, the Madonna probably represents the entire humanity and as such, using the words of the “Divine Comedy” of Dante, she is the “Virgin Mother, daughter of your son”. On the face of the Christ are absents the signs of the Passion, Michelangelo, in fact, does not desire the objective representation of the death but expresses his own religious vision in the abandoned and, anyway, serene face of the Son, as a testimony of the communion between man and God sanctified with the sacrifice of the Saver.
It is said that Michelangelo, not used to firm the own works, after he had casually heard some visitors from Lombardy say that the “Pietà” was the work of Gobbo di Milano, went to the Basilica of San Pietro on the night itself, and engraved on the work the writing: “Angelus Bonarotus Florentinus Faciebat”.
The sculpture was placed in 1499 after Christ in the Chapel of Santa Petronilla in San Pietro, where it stays until 1517 after Christ when it is moved to the old Sacristy. Since 1749 after Christ the work is placed in its actual location and it has abandoned the Basilica of San Pietro only to be welcomed to the Universal Exhibition of New York from 1962 to 1964. Following the gesture of a silly person, who in 1972 damaged the work with numerous hammer beats, after the restoration it has been decided to protect the sculpture with a crystal wall.