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  • Writer's pictureJane Griffin

Discovering the Pietà

We were only able to guide one small group to Italy this year - but what a tour it was (read about it here if you haven’t already). Maybe it is because of the lack of leading tours, or simple un sogno nel cassetto (a dream in a drawer) that I signed up to be a docent at the Sheldon Art Gallery in our hometown (Lincoln, NE). I get to lead 5th-graders - and what fun it is! They are so curious and they have no hesitation about sharing their ideas and thoughts about the art we discuss. I decided that I would “take” the students to Italy through the art. And, what better way to travel there than through the Pietà by Bruno Lucchesi.

This work, done by Bruno at the time of the death of his mother, evokes the same sentiments of Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. This is the piece that we all think of when we hear the name Pietà - but Michelangelo was not the only artist to depict this scene, nor is the one in Rome his only - he actually did many. We get to see his earliest version (and the most famous one) in Rome on our Amalfi Tour. And, on our Tuscany tour, we get to see one of his last. It is located in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. On one tour that we tailored specifically for a group, we started in Rome and ended in Florence and got to see both of these works, it was really interesting to see how differently Michelangelo represented the scene. In his latter work, Christ's body is held not only by Mary, but also by Mary Magdalene and elderly Nicodemus - but in reality it is not the face of Nicodemus, but of the artist himself. It is said that Michelangelo intended this statue to be on his tomb!

Volumes have been written about both of these works of art, so I won’t try to go into the details of the merits, philosophy, messages, techniques, but I did think it would be fun to share a few interesting facts about Michelangelo’s Pietà in Rome.

  • It is the only piece of art that Michelangelo signed - it is said that he added his signature after overhearing it mistakenly attributed to another artist!

  • The Pietà never left Rome since inception, until it was lent by the Vatican to the New York World's Fair in 1964-65. It was a massive undertaking:

  • A bulletproof enclosure made of 2.5 tons of plexiglass protected it.

  • It was packaged in a crate created for the Atlantic crossing - a crate that was designed to withstand a shipwreck - if the ship went down, the crate would float. And a radio transmitter was inside the crate to serve as a location device.

  • Electric-powered conveyor walkways were built at the World’s Fair in front of the statue to keep crowds of viewers moving along.

  • In 1972 a delusional visitor took a hammer to the statue - to restore it the art restorers sorted and identified all of the miniscule fragments of marble dislodged by the hammer. It took ten months to complete the restoration and now the statute is encased in a triple layer of bulletproof glass.

The Pietà done later in Michelangelo’s life is not as famous - but it is just as remarkable, and now is

the time to see it. It has just completed a two-year restoration, so once again, it can be seen as it was when Michelangelo “finished” it (since he never did actually complete it). Read more about it here!

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