George Bernard Shaw once said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Michelangelo did not waste either his youth or his later years. I want to compare for you two different pieces of his that I think reflect the spiritual journey we all (if we are lucky) desire to experience in our lives. The two pieces of Michelangelo’s are The Pietà and The Deposition (aka The Florence Pietà aka The Bandini Pietà aka P-ah yeah!-ta).
A Pietà is a term for Christian art depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the deceased Jesus in her lap. Som
etimes this is called The Lamentation but Pietà sounds all cool and “Italiany” so I like using that word. Michelangelo carved his The Pietà when he was just 24 years old, all in an attempt to make you feel like you wasted your youth. Found in St. Peter’s in Rome, the marble sculpture stands behind an annoying glass case because some jerk-wad (criminally correct term) decided to smash it with a hammer.
The youth of the Virgin Mary counters the intense sadness on her face. While there is weight to Christ in repose, Mary doesn’t appear strained by his weight. There is a peace to Christ’s face. And do you see the way the fabric folds and falls off Mary’s lap? That is marble, people! I can’t get a real blanket on my lap to look that perfect.
Contrast this piece to a later one of Michelangelo’s, The Deposition. He sculpted it when he was in his 60’s so that you can feel you are wasting your retirement. The roughness of the marble varies from the smoothness of the marble he carved in his youth.
Besides Jesus, Michelangelo carved three other figures: the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene (not a prostitute, but we will explore that another time), and Nicodemus. Michelangelo went ahead and modeled Nicodemus after himself; that is basically a self-portrait. There is something to the fact that as Michelangelo’s days grew shorter, he created a work where he is helping Christ from the cross, perhaps symbolizing Michelangelo’s own desires for the forgiveness of his sins. Or maybe he just thought he’d look good in a robe.