1st Edition

Michelangelo’s Vatican Pietà and its Afterlives

By Lisa M. Rafanelli Copyright 2023
    198 Pages 15 Color & 40 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    198 Pages 15 Color & 40 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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.

    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

    Entre’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

    Souvenirs, Body Doubles, 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: The Sacred and the Profane

    The Vatican Pietà as a Symbol of Social Justice

    Performance, Empathy, and Memory: Seeing the Pietà Afresh




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