God in Art: Pietà

As we move toward the Christmas season, let’s not forget the larger story. Christ grew in wisdom and stature, and as a man had much to teach us regarding God’s love and expectations for us. Then he died for our sins, restoring us to God.

We can easily imagine Mary holding her son both at his birth and his death, when he was brought down from the crucifixion she witnessed. The Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo beautifully captured the latter moment in a sculpture commissioned in 1497. It is called the Pietà, which in English means “Piety.” It is on display in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

While it is a scene of death, the sculpture certainly can remind us of Christ’s birth. Mary is depicted as remarkably young, more like her age at Jesus’ birth than at his death more than three decades later. Michelangelo also altered the scale of the characters—if the two characters in the sculpture were to stand, Mary would tower over Jesus. And yet, the scene appears astonishingly natural, a mother cradling her son. The image seems to bridge the moments of birth and death.

Dear Lord, in this approaching Christmas season, may we carry in our hearts the full meaning of Christ’s presence among us. Amen.