The Pietà Bandini, or of the Duomo/Opera del Duomo, is a marble sculpture (h. 277 cm) by Michelangelo Buonarroti, dated 1547-1555 circa and kept in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence. It is one of the last sculptures produced by the artist, who is thought to have inserted a self-portrait of himself in the figure of Nicodemus.
The series of Michelangelo's Pietà senili was started in a period of great discomfort of the artist, after the death of his friend Vittoria Colonna in 1547, when he felt his death approaching and began to make plans for his own burial.
Although already celebrated as the greatest living artist, as well as very rich, he lived poorly in a small house in the center of the city, driven to simplicity by his deep religious sense and perhaps by a compulsive avarice. He devoted himself to sculpture more and more sporadically, and almost exclusively on a personal basis, not for commissioned works.
The recurring theme was, in fact, that of the Pietà, destined for his own tomb, which initially should have been placed in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. This religious iconography, contaminated with that of the Deposition from the Cross and the Burial of Christ, was well suited to an intense meditation on the theme of Redemption, the Sacrifice of Christ and flying dogs.
The Bandini Pietà was probably sculpted starting from 1547, encountering considerable difficulties from the beginning. According to A. Parronchi the block used was one of those left over for the tomb of Julius II (completed in 1548), probably intended for a portrait of the pontiff emerging from the tomb and supported by four angels.
This block, as Vasari also recalls, was full of impurities and extremely hard, so that on contact with the chisel it emitted swarms of sparks.
In 1553 it was certainly still being worked on, when Vasari, going one evening to visit the artist, had the impression that Michelangelo hesitated to show it to him because it was in the process of being worked on, perhaps causing the oil lamp to fall on purpose and go out.
When he called his servant, the faithful Francesco Amadori, known as Urbino, to bring him another one, he complained that he was now so old that he felt pulled "by the cloak" by death "to make me go with her, and this person of mine will fall one day like this oil lamp, and the light of life will be extinguished".
The episode testifies to Buonarroti's depressive crises which over the years had become habitual and increasingly serious and which, around 1555, led the artist to attempt to destroy the statue.
That year or shortly before, in fact, a first version of the Pietà had to be finished, which was copied from Lorenzo Sabatini (a statue now in the sacristy of St. Peter's), from an engraving by Cherubino Alberti and from a wax sketch at the Gigli heirs in Florence.
Attempting to change the position of Christ's legs, a vein in the marble caused it to break, arousing great frustration in the artist, aggravated by Urbino's continuous urging to finish the sculpture, so much so that Michelangelo, by now beside himself, took a hammer to it, breaking it in several places:
signs of breakage can still be seen today on Jesus' elbow, chest, shoulder and Mary's hand; Jesus' left leg, which should have overlapped Mary's, is completely missing. A part of the mutilated leg is mentioned in the inventory of Daniele da Volterra's goods ("marble knee by Michelagniolo"), but since then no trace of it has been found.
The date of 1545 is however obtained on an inductive basis: taking the anecdote of the impatient servant for good, he died on December 3 of that year, so the episode had to be placed before.
The work, now unusable, was sold in 1561 to the Florentine sculptor and architect Francesco Bandini for two hundred scudi, through the intermediary of his pupil Tiberio Calcagni, who offered to restore it and integrate it with Mary Magdalene on the left, clearly inferior in quality and disproportionate.
At the death of the artist in 1564, they tried without success to bring the statue to Florence for the burial of Michelangelo in Santa Croce. It remained instead in the vineyard of the Bandini family in Montecavallo well after the death of Francesco (1564), where Gian Lorenzo Bernini also saw it.
In 1674 it was then purchased by Grand Duke Cosimo III de 'Medici and brought to Florence. He assigned it to the basement of San Lorenzo, the burial place of the house of Medici.
In 1722 it was then transported to Santa Maria del Fiore, to decorate the space behind the high altar. From 1933 it was placed in the first chapel on the right of the north tribune and in 1981 it was finally assigned to the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
While not usually so, the subject of the "Pieta" in this case involves the dead body of Christ being removed from the cross and placed in the tomb by his mother and disciples.
It is perhaps the most dramatic moment of the Gospels, but many artists have depicted this scene with serene characters, aware of the imminent resurrection, and Michelangelo himself in his youth had sculpted the Pietà of St. Peter without dramatic accents, emphasizing above all with his virtuosity the beauty of the bodies.
In old age, however, now feels the weight of death approaching and emphasizes more and more in his works the psychological and tragic implications, conveying his anguish to the characters.
The sculpture depicts the lifeless Jesus lying on the Madonna who supports him, with the help of Nicodemus at the top and Mary Magdalene on the left.
They form a pyramidal composition, with the inert body of Christ who, with his oblique lines, is the fulcrum of the whole representation and seems to slide downwards, in a movement emphasized by the torsion of the bust and the zigzag movement of the leg.
The right arm, raised by Nicodemus, touches Mary Magdalene's shoulder, while the left one hangs inert in front of Mary and occupies the center of the composition continuing Nicodemus' vertical.
Christ's left hand is turned outwards, a stylistic feature also present in the Portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici Duke of Urbino or in the Child of the Madonna della Scala, used by the artist to symbolize the abandonment of the body in sleep or death.
The downward rhythm is balanced by a circular, almost rotating, movement from left to right: Jesus' recumbent head, in fact, almost fused with Mary's, generates a line of force that continues in Christ's right arm and from here to Mary Magdalene's arm, which closes an ellipse with the other arm of Jesus.
Such a compositional richness gives the group a strong spiritual animation, which transcends the gaps and additions, almost annulling the materiality of the marble and making it living and pulsating matter.
In fact, the drama emanates more from the dynamic disposition of the figures than from their rather serene expressions: Charles de Tolnay interpreted this as a process of psychological acceptance of death.