Insightful Words from Michelangelo

The Florentine Pieta by Michelangelo (click for larger image)
The Florentine Pieta by Michelangelo
(click for larger image)
My wife and I are currently in Italy. Yesterday we reached our favorite Italian city, Florence. We had visited it once before, but for less than a day. There is so much art and history here, however, that such a short visit didn’t even allow us to scratch the surface. This time, we are here for a total of four nights, so we can explore the city much better.

Today, one of the many places we visited was the New Opera del Duomo Museum. It holds many artifacts related to the Cathedral of Florence, as well as many works of sacred art. It had a piece by Michelangelo that I had never heard of before – the piece pictured on the left. It is Michelangelo’s Florentine Pieta, which is quite different from his most famous Pieta. He had intended it to mark his own grave, but he got frustrated with it and intentionally broke it. After he died, it was restored by Tiberius Calcagni, an apprentice to Francesco Bandini. The piece contains the body of Christ taken down from the cross, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, and the Virgin Mary. Most historians say that the face of Nicodemus is a self-portrait of Michelangelo.

While the piece is magnificent and was a complete surprise to me, there was something else in the exhibit that was even more magnificent (in my estimation) and even more of a surprise. It was a piece written by the master artist himself near the end of his life. While his words are about him and his profession, I think they can apply to anyone who has a devotion to his or her career:

The course of my life has now brought me
through a stormy sea, in a frail ship,
to the common port where, landing,
we account for every deed, wretched or holy.

So that now I clearly see
how wrong the fond illusion was
that made art my idol and my king
leading me to want what harmed me.

My amorous fancies, once foolish and happy:
what sense have they, now that I approach two deaths-
the first of which I know is sure, the second threatening.

Let neither painting nor carving any longer calm
my soul turned to that divine love
that to embrace us opened his arms upon the cross.

(Timothy Verdon, The New Opera del Duomo Museum, Mandragora 2015, pp.64-66)

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