Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 27, 2012


August 27, 1498: Michelangelo receives a commission from Cardinal Jean Biheres de Ladraulas for a funerary statue. Michelangelo was born on March 6, 1475 and was a Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer. His first love was sculpture and when asked to paint, he would acquiesce but claim he was a sculptor, not a painter. When asked to take on other projects, he would repeat that he was a sculptor. His poetry comes to us today on the edges of papers he used to make preliminary drawings for both his sculpture and his painted works.

The French Cardinal asked the young sculptor to create a piece for his tomb. He was already an old man and would, in fact, die the following year. It took Michelangelo less than two years to create his work and it was placed in the Chapel of Santa Petronilla as part of the mausoleum for the Cardinal. Shortly after it’s installation, according to legend, the sculptor overheard a viewer speak about the work and was horrified as the appreciative man was told it was done by another artist. Therefore, the true artist signed the work with his entire name and place of birth, claiming his Florentine heritage. It is the only signed piece by Michelangelo. He regretted the act of hubris and vowed to never again mar his work in this manner.

The statue the young artist created is the Pietà. It was made of Carrara marble and depicts the Virgin Mother holding the body of her crucified Son. A young woman looks down upon her son with an expression of intense sadness. Jesus does not show signs of the Passion because Michelangelo did not want the statue to be about death so much as to show the serene face of Jesus as he has conquered death for his followers. It was moved several times after completion and sustained damage in one of the moves. Four of Mary’s fingers were broken off and restored in 1736.

On May 21, 1972 (Pentecost Sunday), the statue was attacked by Laszlo Toth, a disturbed geologist. He walked into the chapel at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City where the Pietà now resides. Toth used a geologist’s hammer to attack the work while shouting, “I am Jesus Christ.” As pieces of marble scattered, onlookers picked up the bits and kept them as mementos, adding to the chaos. Some of the pieces were returned to help repair the work, but many were not. Mary’s nose had to be repaired from a block of marble cut out of her back. The statue was painstakingly repaired and returned to the same chapel, only now it is behind a bullet-proof acrylic glass panel.

If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.

Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.

I cannot live under pressures from patrons, let alone paint.

The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection. – all from Michelangelo Buonarroti

Also on this day:

Powerful Industry – In 1859, the modern day oil industry starts.
War is Hell – In 1896, the shortest war in history was fought.
Kǒng Qiū – In 551 BC, Confucius is born.

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