(an excerpt of a presentation by Maria Novajosky)
Things to note when pondering Michelangelo's Pieta`...
1. Mary’s body is larger than Christ’s because Michelangelo wanted her to be able to cradle the body of her crucified son. To achieve this, Michelangelo gave Mary a large lap by sculpting her garments as a sea of cascading fabric.
2. In cradling her son, notice that Mary’s right hand does not come into direct contact with his flesh. This symbolizes the sacredness of Christ’s body.
3. Unlike most artists of the time, Michelangelo focuses on the triumph of Christ’s atonement rather than the sorrow of his death. For this reason, he made Christ’s wounds small, allowing us to focus on the faces of Mary and Jesus instead of his suffering; in fact, it’s almost as if Jesus is in a deep slumber rather than dead.
4. Mary seems very young … too young to be the mother of a grown man. At the time, Michelangelo defended this by saying that because she was born without sin, her youth reflects her sinless state; furthermore, in choosing to sculpt a young Mary, Michelangelo was highlighting her son’s triumph over age and death.
5. Note that Mary is sorrowful, but not grieving. This suggests that Mary, who represents us all, reminds us that we do not have to mourn for Christ; that he is risen and we can grow young again through his sacrifice on the cross. Although a sorrowful scene, it is one full of hope.
6. You will also notice Mary’s sash that stretches diagonally across her chest. When Michelangelo finished the Pietà, it was an immediate success. People flocked from near and far to come see it. One day Michelangelo was standing in the crowd when he heard some pilgrims attributing his work to a lesser known sculptor. Michelangelo was so incensed that he returned that night and chiseled into Mary’s sash the words "Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence made this" and to this day it remains Michelangelo’s only signed work.
7. Finally, the movement of the entire sculpture cascades downward, much like a waterfall: Mary’s garments, the weight of Christ’s limbs, even Mary’s face as it gazes down at her lifeless son. But Mary’s left hand, open and turned upward, counterbalances the rest of the sculpture by symbolizing the resurrection of Christ, the continuum of hope, and maybe even the act of letting go – Mary offering her son to mankind.