The restoration of Michelangelo’s famous Pieta dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence has shown that the single block of marble from which the masterpiece was sculpted was defective, suggesting that it was abandoned before completion.
The Bandini Pieta depicts the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene bearing the body of Christ as he is brought down from the cross by a man named Nicodemus, whose face is a self-portrait of the Italian Renaissance artist.
“It’s a Pieta that has suffered and is very intimate… it’s a truly personal statue,” the restoration project’s director, Beatrice Agostini, told media.
The restoration effort revealed that the 2,700 kilogramme slab of marble has veins and several minute cracks, particularly on the base, which could have prompted Michelangelo to abandon the sculpture before it was completed, according to a statement from the authorities.
The artist had intended to have the sculpture placed next to his tomb, but only a few years after starting to sculpt it, in the mid 1500s, 75-year-old Michelangelo decided to leave the masterpiece, giving it as a present to a servant, who then sold it to Francesco Bandini, a banker.
Restorers found no evidence of hammer strikes, putting to rest the widely held belief that an enraged Michelangelo attempted to destroy the sculpture in a fit of rage, the statement revealed.
The non-invasive restoration began in 2019, but was repeatedly halted due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The sculpture’s surface was cleaned and deposits were removed, restoring it to its natural colour.
According to a joint statement, “the operation has restored to the world the beauty of one of Michelangelo’s most passionate and tormented creations.”
As the statue was always on display, in an open laboratory, on a platform behind a glass screen, visitors were able to see all stages of the process.
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