La Pietà – St. Peter’s Basilica
Michelangelo was 24 years old when he accomplished La Pietà, a Renaissance masterpieces in which the Virgin Mary is depicted as clutching the body of Jesus after being lowered from the cross. Although this is a recurrent scene in Cristian art, it’s also one of his first works after arriving in Rome, and perhaps a reason for why he signs it.
The sculpture is equally fascinating because of two deliberate errors that Michelangelo introduces.
The Virgin Mary is depicted as a teenager – just as when she gave birth to Jesus – and not as the mother of a 33 year old son. Most likely, Michelangelo wanted to highlight the inner beauty and divine grace of the Virgin, hence the eternal spiritual bloom.
The second “error” is that Jesus bares no crucifixion wounds, probably because the artist did not want to insist on the physical death of Jesus, but rather highlight his sacrifice.
Although La Pietà was originally crafted for the tomb of an obscure French cardinal, it was displayed inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome because of its beauty and high level of artistry.
The Figure of Moses – Church of San Pietro in Vincoli
In light of Michelangelo’s achievement of finishing the sculpture of David in Florence – one of his greatest works – Pope Julius II asked him to visit Rome.
His first task entrusted by Pope Julius II was to build the Pope’s Tomb. Because the initial design was too ambitious, Michelangelo settles for a scaled down version that he finishes 40 years later.
Placing the figure of Moses as the centerpiece, it can still be admired to this day in the church San Pietro in Vincoli, from Rome – close to the Colosseum.
Moses is depicted as a strong and imposing figure, with a deep and angry look, as if gazing at the ones entering the church. He’s also holding underarm the 10 Commandments received from God while on top of Mount Sinai.
Michelangelo’s Moses is a reenactment of the Old Testament story, where Moses returns from Mount Sinai with the Commandments only to find the Israelites praying to their old pagan gods. After fleeing Egypt with God’s help, the sight he finds angers him, thus shattering the tablets.
One of the curiosities regarding the sculpture is Moses being depicted as having two horns. There are several theories as to what Michelangelo was trying to emphasize. One would be that Moses was supposed to be high above those watching the statue, thus creating the impression of rays of light surrounding him. The most likely explanation could be a mistranslation of the Bible, where rays spiking out of Moses after seeing God are translated as horns.
Regardless, the symbolism behind the rays of light or horns points that Moses is exalted and basked in divine inspiration after meeting God. There’s no negative connotation to these symbols.
Christ Resurrected – Basilica Santa Maria sopra Minerva
The outside view does not suggest that you’re approaching a church, but an ordinary building.
However, the facade is different from the other imposing facades of Baroque churches in Rome, which seem to impress and highlight the greatness of God.
Regardless, when entering it – located in close proximity to the Pantheon, in the tourist center of Rome – you’ll find another masterpiece from Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Christ Resurrected is a less popular sculpture, which can be found in the only Gothic church in Rome – the Basilica Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Because the church was built on top of an old Minerva temple – the goddess of wisdom – it was named accordingly.