Sculpted from 1498–1500 establishing Michelangelo instantly as the greatest sculptor of his time. At the age of twenty-three, Michelangelo was commissioned by a French Cardinal Jean de Bilhères to create the Pieta for St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican as a tomb monument. He traveled to the marble quarries at Cararra in central Italy to select the block from which to make this large work. The choice of the stone was important because he envisioned the statue as already existing within the marble, needing only to be “set free” from it.
The word Pietà means pity from the Greek word for “compassion” or “pity” and refers not, as often presumed to this specific work (Michelangelo actually did two other Pietàs later in life). The theme of Mary cradling the body of Christ in her lap was all but unknown in Italy before Michelangelo made it famous in this statue. Michelangelo rendered the theme in a way never before attempted or accomplished.