Talking of Michelangelo and the Art of Mothering*

[Michelangelo The Pieta [1498-1499] click here to view this image in original context]

Talking of Michelangelo and the Art of Mothering 


‘Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit’  [i]

I am thinking of a moment in the Vatican, 2009 
standing in front of Michelangelo - the Pietà
Thinking of how days before 
I had stood beneath David  in Florence
admiring those huge, gentle hands, 
mannerism adding to his infamous contrapposto                                                                                                                                                
Where is the mother of this sacrificial lamb – poised, pubescent 
David - on his pedestal, stretching high up into the ceiling of the Accademia
the underdog? 
Of what scale then Goliath!

Back to the Vatican -
I am standing in front of the Pietà
I have almost fallen upon it 
No David - it has not been relegated to it's own cavernous display;
It is set amongst others 
It is set behind bullet-proof glass 
It is set amongst the many who - like me - are vying for their close encounter
It has flashes of cameras illuminating the glass that surrounds it
It has signs saying 'do not photograph with flash'
It has everything going against it that a work of art could have 

and yet

it glows forth [no - not with camera flashes] 
with such tenderness, such affection
and the scale - is our scale 
Not the mythical scale of David's battle
but the human scale  - the battle of love and loss

and flesh!
How be this marble? Where the limp skin of the just departed son 
meets the grieving fingers of his mother's final hold   
and she does hold, so tender - and with such grace
Her youthful face is bowed
One hand supports, the other surrenders
but it is her legs that lie beneath her flowing robes 
that take the weight of her son - of her grief
Those legs that will keep on walking her through her life - her loss 
Which she will not live through - but live with

So many images of this son - larger than life 
a David - a Goliath, of symbolism and faith 
But here, so small in death - he is a beautiful child
a slight delicate form  - just exhausted of breath


What is in a name - the Pietà
the pity [ii]
1. 'the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the sufferings and misfortunes of others'
2. 'cause for regret or disappointment'
'feeling or sorrow for the misfortunes of'
from latin piety [iii]
'the quality of being religious or reverent'
from the latin pietas
'devotion to religious observances'

Our pity
Her piety
Again - those legs
suggested by folds of cloth that at their ends become rock
The rock that is her faith
Her support 
Her obligation

I am standing – not in front of the Pietà
but an enigma of love and loss
‘Virgin mother, daughter of your son’ [iv]
Mother of your father
This is a death you have born
to give life

‘it is the Father who generates,
the Son who is begotten,
the Holy Spirit who proceeds’ [v]

and the Mother, who grieves

[more’s the pity]

[i] T.S Elliot The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, 1920
[ii] Oxford Dictionary
[iii] Oxford Dictionary
[iv] ‘Vergine madre, figlia del tuo figlio’ trans. ‘Virgin mother, daughter of your son’;
  Dante, Divina Commedia, Paradiso, [Cantica 33]
[v] Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 804.

*A reworking of a piece I first wrote for my blog over a year ago...

[text by bek misic - copyright 2011-2012]