Michelangelo’s La Pieta: The Marble Vatican Masterpiece!

A timeless marvel in Vatican City, Michelangelo’s La Pieta is a breathtaking spiritual and artistic gem!

It greets visitors entering the St. Peter’s Basilica and has become one of the city’s major attractions. 

Visitors planning to see this Vatican beauty must know all about the timings, stories, and some fun facts about the La Pieta.

Read further to discover what makes this artwork so special that it attracts over 10 million visitors annually! 

The Masterful La Pieta Sculpture: Description & Story 

Made entirely from a block of marble, the La Pieta, or Madonna della Pieta, depicts a sorrowful scene of Mother Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus.

It is 174cm x 195cm in dimensions and is placed behind a glass case. 

This scene is from the Bible and shows a mother and son’s emotional and delicate relationship.

You will see a youthful Mary, with her head slightly inclined, wearing a plain cloak. 

Jesus’s body is smaller than his mother’s, making the scene reminiscent of his childhood. 

What makes the statue so popular is the emotional impact of the statue and pilgrims’ journey from all over the world to see this life-like divine marble sculpture

You can also see Jesus’s wounds in the Pieta; he seems asleep in his mother’s lap like a child would be. 

The Renaissance beauty of Michelangelo’s carvings that make the cloak appear realistic is one of the main reasons artists should see this piece!

The Pieta is behind a bulletproof glass case to protect it from damage. 

Scroll further to discover some ingenious techniques which he used to give the marble a flowing effect!  

Where is La Pieta Sculpture & How to Get to it?

Where is La Pieta Sculpture & How to Get to it
Image: Leonid Andronov

The La Pieta Sculpture is in the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

You will see this masterpiece on the North side of the Basilica, which is in the first chapel on the right side, as soon as you enter.

The best way to get to the sculpture directly when entering the Vatican is to enter the city from Via della Concillazione.

This entrance will bring you directly to the front of St. Peter’s Basilica!

The La Pieta Sculpture in St. Peter’s Basilica is a 13-minute walk from the Vatican Museum. 

Visitors should check out our How to Get to the Vatican article to find easily accessible routes and transportation options to Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica! 

St. Peter’s Basilica Timings & Best Time to see the La Pieta Statue

St. Peter’s Basilica Timings & Best Time to see the La Pieta Statue
Image: Getyourguide.com

St. Peter’s Basilica is open from 7 am to 7 pm on all days of the week.

You can see the La Pieta statue whenever you visit Vatican City during these times.

The Basilica is least crowded from 7 am to 9 am from Monday to Saturday.

On some Sundays, the Pope conducts a special high mass at the Basilica; in that case, it will be closed for a public visit. 

Visitors traveling on a weekday, especially on Wednesdays and wanting to see the Pope in the Vatican should check out our Papal Audience article for more information!

You will also discover details on how to book seating for a holy mass in St. Peter’s Basilica with the Pope as the celebrant. 

Do I need Tickets to See the La Pieta Statue? 

Visitors can explore St. Peter’s Basilica for free; no tickets are required to see the La Pieta statue!

But you must buy tickets to see the dome and the Papal Tombs in St. Peter’s Basilica. 

History buffs and religious visitors should take a St. Peter’s Basilica guided tour to learn interesting facts and explore the dome and Papal Tombs for €49. 

Those traveling on a budget can also combine their Basilica visit with a Vatican tour and enjoy Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel ceiling works for a price of €80! 

If you think exploring the Vatican City can be too expensive, check out our article on  Visiting the Vatican on a Budget to save more and have a fulfilling experience! 

What is the Meaning of La Pieta? 

La Pieta, the French name, translates to Pity or Compassion in English.

This meaning is fitting, as the scene created the emotion of compassion and pity in all visitors looking at the sculpture.

The Pieta’s story is also a tragic scene in the Bible, as Mary can finally hold Jesus’s body in her arms.  

What Technique did Michelangelo use to create La Pieta?

You will notice that Mary’s head is smaller than her torso, and the sculpture keeps getting wider at the base. 

Michelangelo used a unique Renaissance geometric composition technique, where the entire sculpture looks like a pyramid!

He made sure to incorporate hundreds of folds and creases in Mary’s cloak to give it a flow, making it look like an actual draping cloth piece. 

The entire piece was made from a single block of Tuscany Carrara marble, carved and chiseled to perfection!

Michelangelo was such a master in this field that you can see every vein and facial expression, giving the La Pieta a very natural look.

Many artists sit down to draw the perfect human body details the sculpture captures when passing by. 

Michelangelo was well known for his magnificent artistic abilities displayed throughout the Vatican City.

It would be an excellent opportunity for artists to discover new techniques before leaving; our Michelangelo in Vatican article will make it easier for you to find other pieces by him! 

History of the Michelangelo Madonna della Pieta

Madonna della Pieta, Michelangelo’s favorite piece of art in the Vatican, was commissioned for Cardinal Jean de Bilheres.

It was meant to be the Cardinal’s funeral monument, to be placed on his grave, but was moved back to the Vatican in the 18th century. 

In the Renaissance period, many such sculptures of Mary and Jesus were being crafted, but Michelangelo’s Pieta stood out from the rest.  

Other sculptures showcased grief-stricken emotions in the scene, while Michelangelo’s Pieta figures have a calm expression. 

Like the Sistine Chapel frescos made Michelangelo a famous painter, the Pieta made him world-famous as a brilliant sculptor!

It is the only existing work that Michelangelo signed on completion, and you can see this in the cloth piece on Mary. 

He started workling on this masterpiece in 1498 and completed it in 1500, in less than two years! 

Why did the Church disapprove of Michelangelo’s La Pieta? Theories & Criticisms 

Many controversial theories say that the members of the Church did not approve of Mary’s youth in the La Pieta sculpture. 

Michelangelo made her look young enough that she did not look like Jesus’s mother, but they both looked similar in age. 

Following the controversy, it is said that Michelangelo fought against these allegations, saying that since Mary was a virgin and mother of God, she aged differently as compared to other humans. 

People also believe that Dante’s Divine Comedy inspired Michelangelo’s Pieta! 

Dante believed that since Jesus is God, Mary is his mother and daughter, and Michelangelo’s Mary could be made according to this belief. 

These theories made the Church furious, but the La Pieta Vatican beauty still attracts millions in the same spot as it was before these theories!

Visitors who love exploring such theories behind Michelangelo’s Vatican artwork should check out our Last Judgment article and discover more! 

Exciting facts about Michelangelo La Pieta!

Has the Pieta not caught your interest yet? Here are some exciting, less-known facts about Michelangelo’s Madonna della Pieta! 

  • Restorers believe that Michelangelo signed the La Pieta sculpture twice! Along with his signature on Mary’s body, you can also see a faint “M” alphabet carved on her palm.
  • During restoration, Mary’s eyelid took around twenty tries to get perfect!
  • La Pieta was to be set on display at the World Fair New York in 1964. It was packaged with so much care that if the whole ship sunk, only the statue would float. It also had a tracker to ensure it could be bought back safely. 

Want to know more fun facts about Michelangelo’s works in the Vatican? Check out our Top 9 Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Facts article! 

Restorations done on La Pieta in the Vatican

Most of the sculpture’s body has remained resilient for centuries, but some small restorations were done to enhance its appearance. 

The first restoration of the Pieta was done in 1736 by Giuseppe Lirioni on Mary’s four fingers.

Laszlo Toth, in a drunken stupor, damaged the Pieta with a hammer in 1972 and smashed the Peita to pieces.

Repairing these damages was the biggest restoration, and it took around ten months to complete this work!

The restorers used marble powder and invisible glue to attach the minute pieces of Madonna della Pieta back together. 

Mary’s eyelid was the hardest part of the Pieta to fix, and it took almost twenty tries to get it right!

To prevent further damage to La Pieta, the Vatican Council decided to install a three-layer bulletproof glass case around it. 

The Pieta statue, now on display in St. Peter’s Basilica, remains the same as when Michelangelo constructed it in the 1500s!  

Tips to remember when visiting La Pieta Statue

Here are some helpful tips for first-time visitors to enjoy a significant religious and art experience at St. Peter’s Basilica!

  • Book your St. Peter’s Basilica guided tour in advance. Booking online ensures you don’t have to deal with cash exchange or stand in long queues.
  • Arrive early in the morning to see La Pieta. The crowd comes in later as the place is free to visit.
  • The La Pieta stands in a sacred space, so you must avoid making too much noise in the Basilica.
  • Do not touch the glass case of La Pieta.
  • Be mindful of other visitors and avoid flash photography. 
  • You should visit the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica and see Michelangelo’s beautiful dome as well! 
  • Follow the Vatican dress code. Do not wear clothing that shows your knees and shoulders.
  • Wear comfortable shoes so you can explore the entire city without taking too many breaks. 

Michelangelo’s Other Pieta Statues

This fact is surprising to all visitors, but Michelangelo has three Pieta statues in total!

The first La Pieta statue is in Vatican City, and this article is based on this masterpiece. 

The second sculpture is La Pieta Bandini, in Florence’s Opera del Duomo.

It has a different look, as you can see Mary and Mary Magdalen kneeling and holding up the body of Jesus, along with Nicodemus, who takes him down from the cross. 

Michelangelo destroyed this work in a rage, and it remained in pieces till Tiberio Calcagni restored it before sending it to Florence.

In the last days of his life, Michelangelo worked on the Pieta Rondinini, which shows a standing Mother Mary supporting the body of Jesus.

The Pieta Rondinini was incomplete, as Michelangelo passed away while working on it. 

You can see this masterpiece in the Museum of Ancient Art of Castello Sforzesco in Milan, Italy.   

FAQs for La Pieta Vatican

Why is the Vatican La Pieta Statue significant?

The Vatican Michelangelo La Pieta statue has deep religious and artistic significance. It is famous for the sorrowful emotions it generates among all visitors. The statue is also well-known for its artistic perfection in human composition. 

Why is La Pieta famous?

La Pieta is the physical depiction of Renaissance ideals. It is an iconic masterpiece by Michelangelo and has inspired millions of artists worldwide. The emotional scene showing Jesus’s relationship with his mother captivates the hearts of all Vatican City visitors. 

Why is Mary bigger than Jesus in Pieta?

Mary is made bigger than Jesus in Pieta so that Jesus’s sculpture would fit in her lap. Visitors’ eyes are also drawn to Jesus because of this size difference. 

Where are the 3 Pietas located?

La Pieta is located in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. La Pieta Bandini is in Florence at the Opera del Duomo. Michelangelo’s last Pieta, La Pieta Rondinini is in Milan at Museum of Ancient Art at Castello Sforzesco. 

Why is Mary not touching Jesus in the Pieta?

Researchers believe that Mary is not touching Jesus in the Pieta as he is now reunited with his father in Heaven. It also symbolizes that Mary gave birth to Jesus, but God was his true creator. 

Why was the Pieta controversial?

The Pieta portrayed Mary as a young woman who did not look like other women who had a son of 33 years. This aspect of the Pieta enraged the Church, which did not understand Michelangelo’s intentions. 

What does La Pieta mean in English? 

La Pieta translates to pity or compassion in English. It symbolizes the pitiful scene of Jesus’s dead body lying in his mother’s lap after crucifixion. 

Has the Pieta ever left the Vatican?

Yes, the Pieta left the Vatican to go to the New York World Fair in 1964. It was delivered in around 3 tons of plexiglass, and a tracker was attached to the statue. The package weighed around 6 tonnes because of all these added precautions. 

How long did the Pieta take to sculpt? 

Michelangelo took less than two years to complete the La Pieta Vatican sculpture. 

How old was Michelangelo when he did the Pieta? 

Michelangelo was 23 years old when he began working on the Pieta sculpture.

Featured Image: Wikipedia.org

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