Michelangelo’s Duomo Museum Pietà Show
Until August 1, 2022: LE TRE PIETÀ DI MICHELANGELO: Non vi si pensa quanto sangue costa. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Piazza del Duomo. Open daily 10:15 am – 4:45 pm. Admission: €10. Combined tickets for the Baptistery of San Giovanni and museum. The cheapest ticket is the “Ghiberti Pass,” offering €15 admission to the Cathedral Museum, which hosts the exhibition, the Baptistery and the crypt of Santa Reparata below the Cathedral. For more information, visit Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore website at https://duomo.firenze.it/en/home.
Michelangelo Buonarroti sculpted three Pietà throughout his life, all three in white marble and larger than life size. The Tre Pietà exhibition comprises the original Pietà Bandini statue, as well as casts of the Pietà Vaticana and Pietà Rondanini, which Michelangelo created before taking his chisel to marble.
The “Pietà Vaticana,” sculpted in 1499 when the artist was just 24 years old, is kept in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is the only one of the three that is finished. Another, the so-called “Pietà Rondanini,” is housed at Castello Sforzesco in Milan. When Michelangelo died at the age of 89, the sculpture was left unfinished. The third, “Pietà Bandini,” resides in Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Cathedral Museum). It was sculpted at the end of the artist’s life, intended for his tomb, and was incomplete at the time of his passing.
“Pietà” is the name commonly used to describe the artistic representation of Christ being taken down from the cross and mourned by his mother. In the Roman and Milanese versions, Jesus is depicted with Mary, while the Florentine work contains the body of Jesus supported by his mother and Nicodemus. The artist portrayed himself in the face of Nicodemus, who was described in the Gospels as having provided for the burial of Christ.
Made of white Carrara marble, the Vatican Pietà was created by Michelangelo when he was only 23. The statue is the story of a vision the Madonna had of the death of Christ at the moment of the Annunciation. In addition to the profound emotional connection between mother and child embodied in the Pietà, the incredible artistic talent of the young artist is evident. Running across the sash on the Virgin’s lap, Michelangelo inscribed MICHAEL ANGELUS BONAROTUS FLORENT[INUS] FACIEBA[T], a rare example of a signature on his work.
Michelangelo had been working in Rome for many years when, as an older man, he began to reflect on the themes of life and death. The Pietà Bandini, which is housed in Florence, is presumed to have been crafted with the intention of being placed on the artist’s tomb. The self-portrait on the body of Nicodemus can be understood through the Gospel itself: Nicodemus asked Jesus how an elderly man might rise again. Michelangelo, nearing the end of his life, used his final Pietà to document his hope in resurrection.
Evidence that Michelangelo tried to destroy the last of the Pietà is still visible in the chisel marks in his work. It is known that the remains of his sculpture were recomposed by a student, who completed the figure of Mary. It was sold to banker Francesco Bandini in 1561. It arrived in Florence in 1674, when it was purchased by Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. In 1722, it was placed in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Finally, in 1981 the Pietà was transferred to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, where it is housed in the sala della Tribuna di Michelangelo.
After damaging the Pietà intended for his tomb, Michelangelo set to work on a new marble statue. He would return to it on several occasions, continually rethinking the piece, eventually leaving it unfinished at the time of his death in 1564. At a certain point while sculpting the final Pietà, for reasons which remain unknown, Michelangelo pivoted and changed the design of the statue. The final Pietà stood in the courtyard of Palazzo Rondanini in Rome for centuries, from which the name Pietà Rondanini derives, until it was moved to Milan in the 1950
The exhibition offers visitors an extraordinary view of Michelangelo’s sacred works. For the first time viewer, it is a chance to see all three Pietà in one room. For those who are already personally familiar with the sculptures, Le Tre Pietà offers a more intimate and up-close perspective.
Written alongside a sketch of the Pietà, given to the Marchese of Pescara Vittoria Colonna, is a line from Dante Alighieri’s Paradiso: “Non vi si pensa quanto sangue costa” (You can’t imagine how much blood it cost me). The results of Michelangelo’s artistic evolution and spiritual growth throughout his life converge in the exhibition. (sarah moats)