Michelangelo's three pietas to be displayed in Florence. Image is of the pieta in the Vatican.

Michelangelo’s three ‘pietas’ united for first time ever

By Region Central Italy Culture News

Florence’s Opera del Duomo museum has an historic exhibition of Michelangelo’s three ‘pietas’. The different versions of the Virgin Mary mourning over the body of her son, Jesus, have never been shown together before.

Michelangelo’s famed “Pieta” will be displayed with two other sculptures by the Renaissance giant of the Virgin Mary mourning over the body of Christ

The pieta is admired as an exquisite depiction of maternal grief. But the work housed in the Vatican has overshadowed two other sculptures on the same subject.

The Opera del Duomo museum’s original “Bandini” goes on show Thursday (24th February) alongside casts of the “Pieta” and “Rondanini”, which are on loan from the Vatican Museums.

The setting is intimate, with the three works facing each other. The contrast between the works, created at different phases of the artist’s life, are even more striking. Michelangelo died aged 88, in 1564.

The museum’s director, Timothy Verdon, said it was a unique opportunity to “observe Michelangelo’s intellectual maturation on the theme of the sacred”.

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Maternal grief and love

The exhibition runs until August 1 and “highlights the link between life and art in this religious sculptor, who served the popes for most of his career”.

The “Pieta” housed at the Vatican amazed Michelangelo’s contemporaries. He was not yet 25 years old, and showed a beauteous virgin clothed in billowing drapery. Mary cradles her 33-year-old son, whose serene expression suggests hints at the coming resurrection.

Some criticised Michelangelo for making Mary so youthful. He rejected that by saying purity kept women beautiful.

Devotion to his art

At the age of 72, Michelangelo created his second ‘pieta’, the Bandini, when suffering from depression. Dissatisfied with the work, he attacked it with a hammer. Marks can still be seen today on Jesus’ shoulder and Mary’s hand.

Convinced his death was near, Michelangelo took a vow of poverty and placed religion at the centre of his life. His features and beard are shown on Nicodemus who shields Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Mary.

When he was nearly 80 years old, Michelangelo started the “Rondanini”. A move away from his other pieces, it is  surprisingly modern. A minimalist sculpture, about two metres high, it was found in his home in Rome. It remained unfinished.

Juxtaposing the three works “allows us to measure the evolution of Michelangelo’s style over the 50 years that separate the first pieta from the other two, and the even more drastic and striking change between the last two,” said Verdon.

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