Rondanini Pietà Rondanini Pietà (1550 circa - 1564) by Michelangelo BuonarrotiSforzesco Castle
The Rondanini Pietà
After 1550, following serious damage to the Pietà intended for his tomb (The Bandini Pietà, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence), Michelangelo Buonarroti tackled a new marble statue. He would return to it on several occasions, leaving it unfinished at the time of his death (18th February, 1564). Thanks to a sketch by Michelangelo now preserved at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, we can get an idea of how the original sculptural design should have looked; it differs significantly from the Pietà we know today.
Some details from the first version are still visible: Mary's face was originally different, being turned to her right, and a trace of this can just be made out on one side of what is now her veil. The work, mentioned briefly by Giorgio Vasari in the second edition of his book The Lives of the Artists (1568), was produced without a commission and reflects an intimate and painful vision of Michelangelo's mindset in his later years.
Towards the end of his life, Michelangelo worked on the sculptural group on several occasions, continually rethinking the piece. At a certain point while creating it, for reasons which remain unknown to this day, he radically changed the original design of the statue.
He began to carve out new forms for the Mother and Son from the same block of marble, aiming for a subtler and less imposing depiction.
The Saviour's legs are undoubtedly left over from the first version, as is Christ's right arm; the latter is visibly broken up to the elbow, and the artist would probably have gone on to remove it completely.
Marquess Giuseppe Rondinini
The inscription engraved in the marble, on the left side of the base in an area not otherwise carved, gives us a priceless insight into the Pietà's history. The letters, M.G.R.N.°1, can be deciphered as "Marchese Giuseppe Rondinini numero uno" ("Marquess Giuseppe Rondinini number one").
Indeed, the sculpture belonged to Giuseppe Rondinini (also spelt incorrectly as Rondanini, 1725 - 1801). This great art collector and nobleman, a friend of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, lent his name to the Pietà.
The engraving on the front of the sculpture's base, meanwhile, made prior to 1857, bears the inscription: SS. PIETA DI MICHEL’ANGELO BVONAROTA.
The work is mentioned as part of the Marquess's collections for the first time in 1807, when an inventory of the collections preserved in the building on Via del Corso was drawn up following the death of Giuseppe Rondinini.