Michelangelo (1475-1564) carved the statue of the Pietà (1498-1500) 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.
Michelangelo was formally commissioned to carve the Pietà on August 27th 1498. He was to be paid 450 gold ducats and the sculpture was to be ready within a year from the date of the start of the work. Michelangelo took almost two years to complete the work, by which time the cardinal had died.
The Pietà, which originally stood in the chapel of St Petronilla (legendary sister of St Peter and patroness of the dauphins of France) 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, Michelangelo's Pietà was attacked by Lazlo Toth, a thirty-three-year-old Hungarian, who shouted: ‘I am Jesus Christ, risen from the dead’. Toth struck the sculpture repeatedly with a hammer, removing Mary’s left 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.