Michelangelo's Rome Pietà: Altarpiece Or Grave Memorial

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Michelangelo famously carved many sculptures throughout his lifetime. One of his most famous pieces is the Rome Pietà. The French cardinal Jean de Bilhères Lagraulas commissioned Michelangelo to carve a memorial piece for his own burial in 1497 (Wallace, 243). The Pietà is currently on display in St. Peter’s Basilica on a pedestal as an altarpiece. William Wallace’s article “Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà: Altarpiece or Grave Memorial?” discusses whether the Pietà should be viewed as an elevated altarpiece or at eye level as a memorial through historical context and the intention of how the work was made to be viewed by an audience. The Rome Pietà should be moved to ground level as it was meant to be viewed when Michelangelo carved the piece. Historically, the image of Mary and Christ in such a position was not Italian, but a Northern European idea. The iconography is of German descent that had spread to France and gained important religious meaning in Northern Europe, but was not used in Italy at the time (Hibbard, 44-45). While the image was originally German, it gained momentum in France as an iconic depiction of the Christian tragedy. Michelangelo was the first Italian artist to depict the duo in such a position. Furthermore, Michelangelo differed from previous…show more content…
Now residing in a different area in St. Peter’s Basilica, it has completely lost all its context and meaning to viewers who come to see the piece. The statue was not made as an altarpiece by the artist, and so it should not be presented to the audience as such. The grave memorial should be moved to a more proper location where it can both be viewed at eye level, as it was intended, and regain its historical significance. The famous piece is nothing more than a devotional image at the present, and that should be changed. The Rome Pietà is a stunning piece and would hold even deeper meaning if presented in the proper

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