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Michelangelo Sculptures

Pieta (1547-1555) by Michelangelo

Michelangelo created this unfinished and broken Pietà between 1547 and 1555. The Pietà was meant for Michelangelo's own tomb, but legend has it that in a fit of frustration (he claimed that the marble was unsuitable), Michelangelo attempted to destroy the work and was stopped by his pupils.

Michelangelo's Pieta
This Pietà by Michelangelo, 7 feet 8 inches tall,
stands in the Cathedral in Florence.

The theme of this Pietà is much changed from Michelangelo's earlier version, for this work focuses on the relentless force of death that draws Christ down with a will that the human figures are powerless to resist. The three figures present are Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea (often also identified as Nicodemus), and the Virgin. As a group, the figures are so compelling that most visitors do not notice that Christ is missing a leg.

Detail of Michelangelo's Pieta
Detail of Michelangelo's Pietà.

Michelangelo chose the figure of the older man, Joseph of Arimathea, in which to depict his own features, but this calm, compassionate portrayal is far removed from his violent and anguished self-portrait in Last Judgment.

The head of Christ, in contrast to that of the 1498-1499 Pietà, is being cradled not by the Virgin but by Michelangelo's own incarnation of himself. Michelangelo is careful to focus Joseph's energies on the strength and tenderness with which the Savior should be treated in death.

Michelangelo started work on one more pietà before he died. See the next section of this article to learn about the Rondanini Pietà­.

To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see: