The Pietà (1498–1499) is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti, housed in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. It is the first of a number of works of the same theme by the artist. The statue was commissioned for the French cardinal Jean de Billheres, who was a representative in Rome. The sculpture, in Carrara marble, was made for the cardinal's funeral monument, but was moved to its current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the basilica, in the 18th century. It is the only piece Michelangelo ever signed.
This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The theme is of Northern origin, popular by that time in France but not yet in Italy. Michelangelo's interpretation of the Pietà is unique to the precedents. It is an important work as it balances the Renaissance ideals of classical beauty with naturalism. The statue is one of the most highly finished works by Michelangelo.
The process took less than two years. The Pietà's first home was the Chapel of Santa Petronilla, a Roman mausoleum near the south transept of St. Peter's, which the Cardinal chose as his funerary chapel. The chapel was later demolished by Bramante during his rebuilding of the basilica. According to Giorgio Vasari, shortly after the installation of his Pietà Michelangelo overheard (or asked visitors about the sculptor) someone remark that it was the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari, whereupon Michelangelo signed the sculpture. Michelangelo carved MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBA[T] (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this) on the sash running across Mary's chest. The signature echoes one used by the ancient Greek artists, Apelles and Polykleitos. It was the only work he ever signed. Vasari also reports the anecdote that Michelangelo later regretted his outburst of pride and swore never to sign another work of his hands.
In subsequent years the Pietà sustained much damage. Four fingers on Mary's left hand, broken during a move, were restored in 1736 by Giuseppe Lirioni, and scholars are divided as to whether the restorer took liberties to make the gesture more 'rhetorical'. The most substantial damage occurred on May 21, 1972 (Pentecost Sunday) when a mentally disturbed geologist named Laszlo Toth walked into the chapel and attacked the sculpture with a geologist's hammer while shouting "I am Jesus Christ." Onlookers took many of the pieces of marble that flew off. Later, some pieces were returned, but many were not, including Mary's nose, which had to be reconstructed from a block cut out of her back.
After the attack, the work was painstakingly restored and returned to its place in St. Peter's, just to the right of the entrance, between the Holy door and the altar of Saint Sebastian, and is now protected by a bullet-proof acrylic glass panel.
The sculpture was shipped to New York in 1964 in order to become the main draw for the Vatican pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair, where it was viewed by millions. A copy was transported beforehand to ensure that the statue could be conveyed without being damaged. This copy is on view at St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, in Yonkers.
Taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piet%C3%A0_%28Michelangelo%29 [26.08.2013]