Michelangelo (1475-1564) carved the Pietà from a single block of Carrara marble when he was in his early twenties. The sculpture was commissioned by a French cardinal, Jean Bilhères de Lagraulas, for his funerary monument. The Pietà, which originally stood in a chapel in the old basilica, is the only work of art Michelangelo ever signed (on the band which runs diagonally across Mary’s body). Mary’s youthful appearance has always been much commented on. Michelangelo would claim that the mother of God was a woman of such moral purity that she did not age like ordinary women.
On May 21st, 1972, which was the Feast of Pentecost, the Pietà was attacked by Lazlo Toth, a thirty-three-year-old Hungarian, who shouted, ‘I am Jesus Christ, risen from the dead’. Toth repeatedly struck the sculpture with a hammer, removing Mary’s arm at the elbow and chipping off part of her nose. Thankfully, a group of bystanders prevented him from doing any more damage. The sculpture was skilfully repaired and ever since it has been protected by a special plate-glass screen.