From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Pieta)
Michelangelo Buonarroti's La Madonna della Pietà in Saint Peter's Basilica, 1498–1499. Pontifically crowned by Pope Urban VIII in 1637.

The Pietà (Italian pronunciation: [pjeˈta]; meaning "pity", "compassion") is a subject in Christian art depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary cradling the mortal body of Jesus Christ after his Descent from the Cross. It is most often found in sculpture. The Pietà is a specific form of the Lamentation of Christ in which Jesus is mourned by sole privilege of the Virgin Mary alone, whilst representing her "sixth sorrow" and sometimes accompanied by a specific Marian title.[1]

Pieta of Kampbornhofen, Germany. Crowned by Pope Pius XI in 10 May 1925.

Several of such images have merited a Pontifical decree of Canonical coronation from a Pope, including the Pieta of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, Marienthal Basilica in France, the image in Church of Franciscans in Leuven, Belgium, Kamp-Bornhofen, Germany, and Our Lady of Charity in Cartagena, Spain.

Context and development[edit]

The Pieta as “Our Lady of Charity” (1723) crowned in 17 April 1923 by Pope Pius XI. From Cartagena, Spain.

Pietà is one of the three common artistic representations of a sorrowful Virgin Mary, the other two being Mater Dolorosa (The Dolorous Mother) and Stabat Mater (The Standing Mother).[2][3] The other two representations are most commonly found in paintings, rather than sculpture, although combined forms exist.[4]

The Pietà developed in Germany (where it is called the "Vesperbild") about 1300, reached Italy about 1400, and was especially popular in Central European Andachtsbilder.[5] Many German and Polish 15th-century examples in wood greatly emphasise Christ's wounds. The Deposition of Christ and the Lamentation or Pietà form the 13th of the Stations of the Cross, as well as one of the Seven Sorrows of 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.

Michelangelo Buonarroti[edit]

The Deposition, 1547–1555, Michelangelo, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence

A famous example by Italian sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti was carved from a block of marble and is located in Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. The body of Christ is different from most earlier Pietà statues, which were usually smaller and in wood. The Virgin is also unusually youthful, and in repose, rather than the older, sorrowing Mary of most Pietàs. She is shown as youthful for two reasons: God is the source of all beauty and she is one of the closest to God, and because the exterior is thought as the revelation of the interior; therefore, the virgin is morally beautiful. Michelangelo's Pieta sculpture is also unique in the fact that it is the only one of his works that he ever signed. Upon hearing that visitors thought it had been sculpted by Cristoforo Solari, a competitor, he carved his signature into Mary's sash as "MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T]": "Michelangelo Buonarroti the Florentine did it".[6][7]

In a lesser known Michelangelo Pietà, The Deposition (c. 1547–1555), 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.[8] The sculpture is housed in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence and is also known as the Florentine Pietà.

A generation later, the Spanish painter Luis de Morales painted a number of highly emotional Pietàs,[9] with examples in the Louvre and Museo del Prado.

Comic book art[edit]

The iconography of Piéta, with a figure holding a body in their arms, has been regularly used in comic book art, especially on covers.[10][11] One of the most famous examples is the cover for Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, which features the death of Supergirl.[12][citation needed]


Statues, statuettes and paintings[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pietà". National Galleries of Scotland.
  2. ^ Arthur de Bles, 2004 How to Distinguish the Saints in Art by Their Costumes, Symbols and Attributes ISBN 1-4179-0870-X page 35
  3. ^ Anna Jameson, 2006 Legends of the Madonna: as represented in the fine arts ISBN 1-4286-3499-1 page 37
  4. ^ E.g. see Noël Quillerier's at Oratorio della Nunziatella
  5. ^ G Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II,1972 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, pp. 179–181, figs 622–39, ISBN 0-85331-324-5
  6. ^ William E. Wallace, 1995 Life and Early Works (Michelangelo: Selected Scholarship in English) ISBN 0-8153-1823-5 page 233
  7. ^ "Pieta by Michelangelo". www.michelangelo.net.
  8. ^ "The Deposition by Michelangelo". www.michelangelo.net.
  9. ^ "Luis de Morales – Artworks". www.the-athenaeum.org.
  10. ^ "I Can't Cover What I Am - The Best Pieta Covers!". CBR. 2008-06-23. Retrieved 2023-08-03.
  11. ^ "Top Five Actual Pieta Covers". CBR. 2009-08-13. Retrieved 2023-08-03.
  12. ^ Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. DC Comics. 1985.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]