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CURRENT ISSUE:  December 14, 2009
VOL. 47, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Bishop Cordileone among Catholic signers of Manhattan Declaration
Honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe
Oakland’s St. Elizabeth High adopts flexible tuition plan
Religious leaders weigh in on climate change at U.N. conference
Replica of Pieta on loan to Cathedral
(See Christmas message from Bishop Salvatore Cordileone)

In Michelangelo’s Pieta, Christ’s torso and limbs are smooth rather than deeply marked with the wounds of his suffering.
all phoTOs by José Luis Aguirre
Mary’s expression is serene and contemplative. Art historians believe this sculpture reflects the artist’s faith in immortality.

A full-size bronze replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta has arrived at Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light and will be on public display for the next several months in an alcove across the hall from the mausoleum.

Michelangelo carved a small hole in the feet and hands of Christ to mark his death by crucifixion.
The sculpture was cast by an Italian foundry from plaster molds taken directly from the original marble in the Vatican in 1932. It is one of 12 cast by Fondoria Artistica Fernando Marinelli in Florence and one of two currently on exhibit in North America. It was created in 1982 for the collection of Galleria Bassanti and sold in 2005 to the New Renaissance Art Corporation.

The Pieta is on loan to the cathedral at the request of Bishop Salvatore Cordileone. Most recently it was on display in the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, Missouri.

Visitors to the Oakland cathedral will find the Pieta at the base of the staircase leading from the cathedral. It can also be reached via elevator. Father Paul Minnihan, cathedral provost, said a kneeler has been placed in front of the sculpture for those who wish to pray.

Michelangelo carved the Pieta on the commission of Cardinal Jean de Villiers de la Grolaye, an aged Benedictine, who wanted a monument for his tomb at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It took the artist two years to complete the work in 1499. He was 24 years old and already known as the premier sculptor in Italy.

The sculpture depicts Mary holding her crucified Son across her knees. Although this scene is not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, it was cited during the Middle Ages as one of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, according to noted art historian John T. Spike.

Michelangelo’s sculptural mastery is seen in the delicate face of Mary.
“Our deepest feelings are touched by the sight of Christ, as if in death he has again become a child gathered up in his mother’s arms,” wrote Spike. He said that when the sculpture was unveiled, some considered Mary too young in relation to her son. Michelangelo replied that Mary’s youthfulness was the outward manifestation of her chaste heart, reports Spike.
Spike added that during the Renaissance, Botticelli and other Florentine painters represented the Pietà, but Michelangelo was the first Italian sculptor in his century to carve it. He used a large marble block that he selected at the quarries at Cararra.

Although Cardinal de la Grolaye never saw the completed sculpture, it was placed over his tomb in a circular mausoleum adjacent to the south transept of St. Peter’s in Rome. When the Basilica was reconstructed and enlarged in 1517, the Pieta was transferred to the new church where it has remained over the centuries.

The word Pieta comes from the Greek word for “compassion” or “pity” and refers to a traditional type of devotional image.

The replica can be seen in the Cathedral of Christ the Light between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The cathedral is located at the corner of Grand Avenue and Harrison Street in downtown Oakland.

Father Paul Minnihan, provost of the Cathedral of Christ the Light, incenses a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta that will be on display at the cathedral (see image below) for the next several months. The statue’s blessing took place Dec. 8.

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