Pietàs of Passion

The word “pietà” means “pity” in Italian. Its Latin origin translates into “piety” or “duty”. In art, a Pietà is any representation of Mary mourning the dead body of the crucified Christ. It is a scene of powerful emotional import. If other figures from the New Testament are also depicted, the work is often called “Lamentation”. On this Good Friday, a collection of pietas for my readers.

The pietà subject presents many options for artists, both compositionally and stylistically. Some are horizontal, others are vertical. Some depict the body of Christ with blood and wounds, while others omit them in favor of an unscathed figure. Some emphasize the pain, agony, and grief of the moment, while others take an almost serene, quietly mournful approach.

We’ll start with the archetype, the pietà that sets the standard for all others; Michelangelo’s sculptural masterpiece located in St. Peter’s Basilica. Completed in 1499, and carved from a single slab of Carrara marble, it is the only work by Michelangelo that he ever signed. It received much criticism for its portrayal of an impossibly youthful Mary, who appears far too young to be the mother of a 33 year old man. But Michelangelo defended his choice. Designed in a pyramid shape, Michelangelo’s Pietà is considered a foremost example of Renaissance sculpture:


One of my favorite pietas is this painting by Annibale Carracci, 1600. The hand gesture of Mary is an extraordinary detail, and I love the lights and darks:


William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Pietà, 1876, is presented in the French academic style for which the artist is known. Mary stares straight ahead, surrounded by sorrowful angels:


A striking Pietà by Luis de Morales, 1570. Again, the prominent placement of Mary’s hands.


Andrea Del Sarto, 1524, oil on wood. Christ’s face is barely visible here, as the surrounding figures seem to dominate the composition:


A surrealist Pietà from Salvador Dali who clearly modeled this work after Michelangelo. His works of religious themes are really impressive. I’m a huge fan. I posted his Ascension of Christ here a few years ago:


Sebastiano del piombo’s Pietà, ca 1515, takes a different approach, with Christ lying flat on the ground as Mary prays:


Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, 1485, in tempera by Carlo Crivelli, is a fine example of the early Renaissance style:


Pietà by Moretto da Brescia, ca. 1530. Sorrow and pain come across in the facial expressions and gestures:

Moretto da Brescia (Italian, 1498 - 1554 ), Pietà, 1520s, oil on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection

The desolate landscape works to great effect here in this Pietà, 1854, by the superb symbolist painter Gustave Moreau:


And here’s something you won’t see in any museum. A “pieta” on the streets of New York. Spring Studio‘s Minerva Durham plays Mary to a Jesus acted out by artist’s model and dancer Magic Distefano, in the middle of Lafayette Street. That’s Andrew Bolotowsky on flute. There wasn’t a music accompanist at Calvary, but there is in SoHo:


To all my readers, a blessed Easter weekend … lift up your hearts in rebirth, renewal, the coming of spring, and light everlasting …

Love you all 🙂


23 thoughts on “Pietàs of Passion

  1. What a marvelous post, Claudia – thank you for compiling these, and happy Easter!

  2. Lynn Kauppi says:

    Claudia this is always such an intense day, as it well should be. These images reflect the diversity of responses to the abyss of sorrow that we Christians should feel today. As one who’s studied the time period, culture, and literature of the New Testament, I especially appreciate those images that depict the sheer horror of this day. And I especially appreciate Grunewald’s Crucifixion today. I guess this is because I’m such a German and Scandinavian Lutheran.
    Thank you for providing us with these visual meditation.

    Grace and peace


    • artmodel says:


      Intense day indeed. Good Friday services at my church were full of parishioners. After Easter Sunday, Good Friday sees the biggest turnout in the pews during Holy Week, as it should be .. like you said.

      I’m happy that you enjoyed these pieta images. There were so many to choose from, I had to narrow it down. It took awhile!

      Thank you so much for your beautiful, descriptive comments and thoughts.

      Grace and blessings,

  3. Rosanne says:

    This is beautiful. Happy Easter Claudia!!🐣🐣

  4. Bill says:

    Am excellent posting — a great deal of love and care went into putting this together. Thank you.
    I think that there’s a deep-rooted sense that there is a natural order to things — and that part of that natural order is that the parent should die before the child. I’m sure that Mary wished that she could have been allowed to take her son’s place. And her pain could only be amplified by witnessing the particularly gruesome form of death. It’s a central event within the context of Christian faith, but it can also resonate deeply with people of any religious viewpoint. You simply have to be human — and the art reflects that. Well done.

    • artmodel says:


      Such a thoughtfully expressed comment, thanks very much. Agree 100% on all your points, especially about the “natural order”. Many of the artworks capture the feeling of brutal disturbance that surrounds this event. It’s really essential to the specific brand of sorrow communicated here. I also take in the scene while thinking about how Jesus was abandoned by his disciples in the hours leading up to the crucifixion.

      Thanks again for your comments, Bill!


  5. pposeur says:

    This reminds me of a past modelling job, pictures of which are in my blog. Thanks for the memories.

  6. Dave says:


    Thanks for an extremely informative post. Just yesterday I took my daughter to the Detroit Institute of Arts where we saw a lot of Pietas in the galleries devoted to Italian baroque and Renaissance works. I’m not Christian, but I certainly appreciate the skill displayed in these pieces and the raw emotions they depict.

    I hope you enjoy your holiday!

    • artmodel says:


      Sounds like a wonderful father-daughter outing to the museum! The Detroit Institute of Arts is one of many places I have yet to visit. They have an impressive collection. Isn’t John Sloan’s “McSorley’s Bar” there? A great painting … as I do love Sloan.

      I appreciate you saying that one need not be a Christian to be moved by the pieta image. I’m mindful that my readers are of all faiths, creeds, and beliefs. We come together here to recognize the universality of art, beauty, and humanity.

      Thanks so much for your comments!


      • Dave says:

        McSorley’s Bar is at the DIA, but I haven’t yet spotted it despite many visits. It’s a huge museum, and I always seem to end up spending most of my time in the Dutch and Italian sections.

  7. Derek says:

    Happy Holidays and a great post and lovely paintings of these pieces and one phptograph that features your employer there playing the virgin mary role.

    • artmodel says:


      Yep, that’s the one and only Minerva Durham! Playing Mary like only she can 🙂

      Thanks for your comment, and happy holidays to you!


  8. Fred Hatt says:

    That’s a great collection. I love that you included Minerva and Magic! Have a happy and blessed Easter, Claudia!

    • artmodel says:


      The picture of Minerva and Magic was kind of the catalyst for this post! Minerva and I were looking at photos on her computer and she showed me this one because we had been discussing a pieta. I loved the pic and got the idea to do a pieta blog post around Easter. Hence, here we are!

      Thanks for the Easter wishes and for your comments!


  9. thank you for a beautiful,interesting & meaningful posting..buona pasqua…

  10. thank you for a beautiful & meaningful posting..buona pasqua…

  11. artwithnudity says:

    Interesting post, nice with all the examples!
    Have been reading your blog for years, always good

    • artmodel says:


      Appreciate it, many thanks! So happy you’ve commented after longtime readership. Glad to have you!


      • artwithnudity says:

        A photo you posted once by Fred Hatt of a very extreme foreshortened lying pose or yours has inspired me to delve into foreshortening/unusual viewpoints so thank you for that too!

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