Art History Lab

The Masterpiece of Michelangelo: The Piet Statue

The Piet Statue by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo Buonarroti, one of the most celebrated artists of the Italian Renaissance, created many notable artworks, including his famous Piet Statue. This religious sculpture is widely considered to be one of his greatest masterpieces, located in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

The statue depicts a venerated biblical figure, Jesus Christ, cradled in the lap of the Madonna, Mary. The serene face of Jesus and youthful Mary with her drapery and triangular framework, have made this sculpture world-famous.

Background and Significance of the Piet Statue

The Piet Statue was first commissioned by Cardinal Jean de Bilhres de Lagraulas, a representative of the French monarchy, which had a significant interest in the Vatican. The statue’s political nature and Michelangelo’s talent caught the attention of the Vatican officials who wanted to commission him to create a Piet for the Chapel of Santa Petronilla.

The significance of the Piet Statue lies in its spiritual and religious symbolism, portraying the love of the mother for the son.

Commissioning and Creation of the Piet Statue

The Piet Statue was commissioned by Cardinal Jean de Bilhres de Lagraulas, but it was initially intended for a different location. Michelangelo sculpted the statue for a French prelate of Rome, and he worked diligently for over two years.

During this time, Michelangelo faced many technical challenges, especially when he was nearing the final stages of the sculpture.

Theme and Structure of the Piet Statue

The Theme of the Piet

The Piet Statue is a powerful representation of the pity, piety, and love that Mary had for her son, Jesus. The sculpture’s theme of sorrow, mourning, and empathy for human suffering is conveyed in its visual language.

The triangular format of the statue’s structure helps to emphasize the bond between the three figures, Mary, St. John, and Jesus Christ. The Piet symbolizes the human emotions of loss and sorrow, but it also provides a message of hope, exemplifying the Christian belief in redemption and resurrection.

Structure and Composition of the Piet Statue

Michelangelo designed the Piet Statue in a pyramidal format, which is typical of the High Renaissance period, where the main figures are placed centrally in a triangular space. The triangle framework provides a harmonious balance between the figures, representing the Holy Trinity.

The pyramidal composition also adds to the statue’s sense of dignity and grandeur. The Mary’s head and the youthful face convey the statue’s sentiment of sadness and agony.

The Catholic Church has venerated Mary as a mother, and her portrayal in the Piet shows her devotion to her son, Jesus. The Golgotha rock is an important element in the statue’s composition as it represents the place where Christ was crucified.

The drapery is an essential feature of Michelangelo’s sculptural style, creating the illusion of movement and fluidity. The triangular framework and pyramidal format add balance and harmony to the overall composition of the statue.


The Piet Statue by Michelangelo is an inspiring masterpiece that has stood the test of time, both in terms of its religious significance and artistic excellence. The sculpture holds great importance in the world’s art history and has influenced generations of artists with its symbolism.

Through the Piet Statue’s symbolism, one can understand the emotion and the intensity that the artist wanted to convey. The Piet Statue is a reminder of the incredible amount of time, skill, and artistry that went into its creation and underscores Michelangelo’s position as one of the most celebrated and iconic artists the world has ever seen.

Exhibition and Conservation of the Piet Statue

Michelangelo’s Piet Statue has been an essential part of the artistic and religious heritage of Italy for centuries. It has been revered for its technical skill, beauty, and deeply emotional symbolism.

The statue has undergone many conservation and restoration efforts over the years to ensure it remains in excellent condition. Additionally, it has been exhibited in various parts of the world, including New York.

Exhibition of the Piet in New York

The Piet Statue was exhibited in 1964 at the World Fair held in New York City. However, there were concerns about the safety of the statue, so it was placed behind a bulletproof glass cover.

The commercialization of the statue was also at the forefront of many critics. Despite these concerns, the exhibition was a great success, drawing millions of visitors who marveled at the beauty and technical skill of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

Attack on the Piet and Restoration Efforts

In 1972, the Piet Statue was attacked by Laszlo Toth, a mentally ill man, with a hammer. He caused extensive damage to the sculpture, breaking pieces of marble from the artwork, including the Madonna’s arm and nose.

Luckily, the damage was not irreversible. The restoration project began, and the broken pieces were collected carefully, making sure that the marble dust and chips were preserved.

The most complex part of the restoration was to replicate the signature style Michelangelo employed for the eyelids that had been severely damaged. After a prolonged and intensive restoration process, the Piet was returned to its historical place in the Vatican, a beloved artwork once again, and reunited with pilgrims and enthusiasts who flock to gaze upon its sheer beauty.

Terracotta Piet Sculpture by Michelangelo

Many art historians and enthusiasts are surprised to learn that Michelangelo created a terracotta model of his Piet Statue before he sculpted it from marble. The terracotta Piet was discovered in the archives of a French noble family in the early 20th century, raising questions about its authenticity and provenance.

Discovery and Authenticity of the Terracotta Piet

The investigation centered on whether this model was indeed Michelangelo’s, so authorities ran various tests, such as analyzing the clay mixture and analyzing the composition of the dolomite used. The tests confirmed that the maquette was Michelangelo’s, giving the world rare insights into his creative and artistic process.

Analysis and Importance of the Terracotta Piet

The terracotta Piet provides a unique perspective on Michelangelo’s process of creating one of his most famous works. The maquette is a miniature version of the marble sculpture, with details so intricate and precise that it could be a standalone piece.

The terracotta sculpture allowed Michelangelo to try out different ideas and techniques before moving on to the final stage of creating the high Renaissance marble statue in the Apuan Alps. The discovery and confirmation of the terracotta Piet highlight the importance of Michelangelo’s creative process and provide an essential new insight into the artistic genius’s life and works.

It confirms that Buonarotti was meticulous and detail-oriented in his artworks, not just in his marble counterparts but even in maquettes, that have managed to stay hidden for centuries.


The Piet Statue by Michelangelo remains a timeless masterpiece whose beauty and symbolism have captivated generations of people around the world. The conservation and exhibition of the artwork have been crucial in ensuring its continued relevance to art and history enthusiasts worldwide.

The discovery and confirmation of the terracotta maquette of the Piet have added a new layer to scholarly insights into Michelangelo’s creative process. The Pieta informs and inspires numerous other works of art and artistry, which is a testament to Michelangelo’s genius.

In conclusion, Michelangelo’s Piet Statue remains an iconic symbol of the High Renaissance and the religious influence in Italian art and culture. The historical significance of the artwork, its symbolism, and the artistic genius of Michelangelo continue to inspire and captivate people worldwide.

Conservation and restoration efforts ensure that the artwork remains relevant and authentic for future generations to enjoy. The discovery and confirmation of the terracotta Piet provided valuable insights into Michelangelo’s creative process, underscoring its importance in art and history.

The creative imaginings of such talent are what make history unforgettable, so the Pieta will hold particular significance for art historians and enthusiasts for years to come.

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