12 things you may not know about Michelangelo's Pietà in Florence Cathedral
In the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence there is a splendid sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, conceived and created by the master between 1547 and 1555 ca.
Michelangelo sculpted three "Pietà" over the course of his long life, all three in white marble, all three larger than life size: a Pietà that the master sculpted it in 1499, when she was 24, is kept in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It is the only one of three he finished. The other is the so-called "Pietà Rondanini", now preserved in Castello Sforzesco, in Milan; the artist left it unfinished upon his death, when he was 89 years old. The third is that of Florence, which Michelangelo sculpted as an elder man, between 1447 and 1555; Michelangelo did not complete it, he tried to destroy it indeed...
"Pietà" is the name commonly used to indicate the iconographic subject of Christ taken down from the cross, mourned by his mother and other figures of the Gospel and it is an iconography of Nordic origin, "imported" into Italy by Michelangelo himself. In the Pietà in Rome and in Milan, Jesus is depicted only with Mary, while the Florentine version is more complex: the body of Jesus is represented when he is transfer to the tomb, supported by Mary, Magdalene and Nicodemus. Michelangelo portrayed himself in the figure of Nicodemus (the rich member of the Sanhedrin described in the Gospels who provided for the sumptuous burial of Jesus).
Michelangelo had been in Rome for many years when, as he got older, he began to think about death so that he sculpted the Pietà for his own burial. The work was presumably to have stood above the altar of a sepulchral chapel of some Roman church. The work is certainly among the most important ever made by the master, precisely because of its intimate and very personal character. The image of Christ being placed in the tomb, placed above the altar, was a reference to the mystery of the Eucharist that was celebrated there during mass. But the meaning of Michelangelo's self-portrait in Nicodemus's face can be understood by reading the Gospel: Nicodemus is the character who asked Jesus how it was possible for an elderly man to rise again ... Michelangelo referred to himself this hope in Resurrection. As a Christian he believed that at the end of time, his body would rise from under the altar to the glory of Christ ... that is, under the sculpture where he was pictured as Nicodemus helping Christ to go down to the tomb.
Michelangelo began to work on the statue in Rome around 1447 but, in 1455 he left it interrupted and tried to destroy it. Perhaps he had found veins in the marble, perhaps he was dissatisfied with the pose of Christ. He then gave it to his "servant" Antonio da Casteldurante; Antonio had the fragments recomposed by Tiberio Calcagni, a Florentine sculptor and Michelangelo’s pupil, who completed it in the left figure of the Magdalene (the only one finished and polished).who had it restored by Tiberio Calcagni, and sold it to the banker Francesco Bandini who placed it in the garden of his Roman villa in Montecavallo.
In 1649 the sculpture was again sold by the Bandini Family (together with the villa of Montecavallo) to the cardinal Luigi Capponi who took it to his palace in Montecitorio in Rome.
In 1671 Piero Capponi, great-grandson of the cardinal, sold the sculpture to Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
The sculpture remained in Rome for another three years (it was difficult to transport it!), Then it was embarked in Civitavecchia, reached the port of Livorno and, traveling along the Arno river, arrived in Florence. For about fifty years it remained in the basement of the basilica of San Lorenzo and then, in 1722, Cosimo III had it placed in Santa Maria del Fiore. In 1981 the Pietà was finally transferred to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. In the new desing project of the Museum (2015), the Pietà is displayed in the center of the room entitled "Tribuna di Michelangelo", on a base that evokes the altar to which it probably was destined.