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Michelangelo's St Peter's Pieta.

The Pietà (pl. same; Italian for pity) is a subject in Christian art depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, most often found in sculpture. As such, it is a particular form of the Lamentation of Christ, a scene from the Passion of Christ found in cycles of the Life of Christ. When Christ and the Virgin are surrounded by other figures from the New Testament, the subject is strictly called a Lamentation in English, although Pietà is often used for this as well, and is the normal term in Italian.


Context and development

Pietà is one of the three common artistic representations of a sorrowful Virgin Mary, the other two being Mater Dolorosa (Mother of Sorrows) and Stabat Mater (here stands the mother).[1][2] The other two representations are most commonly found in paintings, rather than sculpture, although combined forms exist.[3]

The Pietà developed in Germany (where it is called the "Vesperbild") about 1300, reached Italy about 1400, and was especially popular in Central European Andachtsbilder.[4] Many German and Polish 15th century examples in wood greatly emphasise Christ's wounds. The Deposition of Christ and the Lamentation or Pietà form the 13th of the Stations of the Cross, as well as one of Seven Sorrows of the Virgin.

Although the Pietà most often shows the Virgin Mary holding Jesus, there are other examples, e.g. those in which God the Father participates in holding Jesus (see gallery below).

Occasionally the image of the Pietà is reversed – a son holding a dying mother, as in the film Mother and Son.

Noteworthy examples


The most famous Pietà is Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The body of Christ is different from most earlier pietà statues, which were usually smaller and in wood. The Virgin is also unusually youthful, and in repose, rather than the older, sorrowing Mary of most pietàs. She is shown as youthful for two reasons; God is the source of all beauty and she is one of the closest to God, also the exterior is thought as the revelation of the interior (the virgin is morally beautiful). The Pietà with the Virgin Mary is also unique among Michelangelo's sculptures, because it was only one he ever signed, upon hearing that visitors thought it had been sculpted by a competitor.[5]

Michelangelo's last work was another Pietà, this one featuring not the Virgin Mary holding Christ, but rather Joseph of Arimathea, probably carved as a self-portrait.


Gallery of statues

Gallery of paintings

See also


  1. ^ Arthur de Bles, 2004 How to Distinguish the Saints in Art by Their Costumes, Symbols and Attributes ISBN 141790870X page 35
  2. ^ Anna Jameson, 2006 Legends of the Madonna: as represented in the fine arts ISBN 1428634991 page 37
  3. ^ E.g. see Noël Quillerier's at Oratorio della Nunziatella
  4. ^ G Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II,1972 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, pp. 179-181, figs 622-39, ISBN 853313245
  5. ^ William E. Wallace, 1995 Life and Early Works (Michelangelo: Selected Scholarship in English) ISBN 0815318235 page 233

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also pietà, pietä, and pięta


German Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia de


Pietà f.

  1. pietà (sculpture or painting of the Virgin Mary holding and mourning the dead body of Jesus)

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