Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Pietà, 1498-9. Marble, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.

The Pietà was commissioned for a tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo completed this work when he was only 25 years old. Unusually large at five feet, eight inches tall, the figures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus appear in a unified composition in the form of a pyramid. The voluminous folds in the Virgin Mary’s clothing envelope her from head to foot and allow Mary to hold the body of her adult son on her lap without looking too out of proportion. Michelangelo used the human body to express emotional and spiritual states.

The vesperbild was a popular type of devotional subject in the late Middle Ages among northern European artists. It represents Mary sorrowfully contemplating the dead body of her son that she holds on her lap. Developed in Germany about 1300 most vesperbild were small wooden sculptures. The form spread to Italy in time for the Early Renaissance and became known as a pietà.

Michelangelo, Pietà, 1498-9.

The historical period generally spanning from the fifth century to the fifteenth century C.E. in Europe and characterized by decreases in populations and the degeneration of urban life.

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