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Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) completed work on his Pieta--one of the world's most famous sculptures--when he was just 24 years old. It is considered one of the greatest examples of Renaissance sculpture, balancing its ideals of classical beauty with elements of naturalism. The Pieta depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the body of her Son, Jesus Christ, in her lap shortly after the Crucifixion. The sculpture, which rests in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, stands 68.5 inches by 76.8 inches and was completed in less than two years. It is pyramidal in design, with Mary's head serving as the apex. It widens to the base, the rock of Golgotha, on which she sits. It is proportionally incorrect, with Mary appearing much larger than Jesus, in part due to the long, flowing drapery of her dress. It was unique to the period in part because Mary is pictured as a young and beautiful woman, rather than the 50ish woman that she would have been at the time of Jesus' death. A reason given for her youth is that it establishes a portrait of her "incorruptible purity." Michelangelo stated that
Do you not know that chaste women stay fresh much more than those who are not chaste? How much more in the case of the Virgin, who had never experienced the least lascivious desire that might change her body?
It is also believed to be the first Italian sculpture depicting Jesus in the lap of Mary.
The Pieta was commissioned to serve as the funeral monument of the French cardinal Jean de Billheres, and it was originally housed in the Chapel of Santa Petronilla, near St. Peter's. It is the only sculpture signed by Michelangelo: Michelangelo overheard a visitor claiming that the sculpture was created by another sculptor, so Michelangelo added his name to the piece on the sash that runs across Mary's chest.
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