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:
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