Michelangelo’s Vatican Pietà and its Afterlives  book cover
1st Edition

Michelangelo’s Vatican Pietà and its Afterlives

  • Available for pre-order. Item will ship after January 31, 2023
ISBN 9780367859886
January 31, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
208 Pages 15 Color & 40 B/W Illustrations

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USD $150.00

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Book Description

This book offers a fresh perspective on Michelangelo’s well-known masterpiece, the Vatican Pietà, by tracing the shifting meaning of the work of art over time. 

Lisa M. Rafanelli chronicles the object history of the Vatican Pietà and the active role played by its many reproductions. The sculpture has been on continuous view for over 500 years, during which time its cultural, theological, and artistic significance has shifted. Equally important is the fact that over its long life it has been relocated numerous times and has also been reproduced in images and objects produced both during Michelangelo’s lifetime and long after, described here as artistic progeny: large-scale, unique sculpted variants, smaller-scale statuettes, plaster and bronze casts, and engraved prints. 

The book will be of interest to scholars working in art history, Renaissance studies, early modern studies, religion, Christianity, and theology.

Table of Contents


List of Figures



Chapter 1. Opening Act: Michelangelo’s Vatican Pietà

Cardinal Jean de Bilhères Lagraulas and the Commission 

Envisioning the Pietà

The Finished Sculpture (and some lingering questions)

Encountering the Pietà

Experiencing the Pietà

The Madonna della Febbre

The Peripatetic Pietà: from Santa Petronilla to the Secretarium


Chapter 2. Canonicity and its Discontents: Artistic Progeny of the Pietà during the Sixteenth Century

A Pietà for Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome

Intermezzo: Florentine Rebellion

A Pietà for Santo Spirito in Florence

An Anonymous Critic and a Madrigal

A Pietà for the King of France

A Pietà for Everyone: Reproductive Prints

Canonicity and its Discontents


Chapter 3. Restaging the Pietà in the Late Sixteenth to Seventeenth Centuries

Marian Devotion and Imagery in Tridentine Rome

The Pietà and the Canons’ Choir (1568-1609)

On the Road Again (1609-1625)

Early Seventeenth Century Posthumous Bronze Copies of the Pietà in Italy and Spain

The New Canons’ Choir (1625-1750)



Chapter 4. Shifting Perspectives: Michelangelo and the Pietà from the Mid Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries

The Pietà and the Grand Tour

Robert Samber’s Roma Illustrata (1722)

Mid-Century: The Pietà takes Center Stage 

The Late Eighteenth-Early Nineteenth Centuries: Revolution, Romanticism, and Michelangelo

Entr’acte: Napoleon and the Looting of Rome

The Mid-Nineteenth Century: Nationalism and the Art of Michelangelo

The Great Exhibition of 1851 

Michelangelo’s Florentine Birthday Bash of 1875


Chapter 5. The Pietà on the American Stage: The Twentieth Century

A Question of Authenticity

Marble Pietàs in Early Twentieth Century America: Icons of Faith, Beauty, and Identity

The Pietà and Popular Devotion: Our Lady of Sorrows

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis: The Pietà at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale

Lost-Wax Bronze Casts of the Pietà: Icons of Faith, Beauty, and Commerce

The Pietà and American Consumer Capitalism

Only the Original Will Do: The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair

Staging the Pietà in the Vatican Pavilion

Critical Reception

Progeny Now: Souvenirs, Corporeal Surrogates, and Effigies

Plot Twist: An Iconoclastic Attack (1972)


Chapter 6. Coda: The Pietà on the Global Stage

Something Borrowed: Recasting Casts 

Fragmentation, Proselytization, and Commodification

Something New: Contemporary Artists and the Vatican Pietà

Artistic Appropriation: Sacred and Profane

The Vatican Pietà as a Symbol of Social Justice

Performance, Empathy, and Memory: Seeing the Pietà Afresh



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Lisa M. Rafanelli is Professor  of Art History at Manhattanville College, USA.