michelangelo buonarroti - Pietà, 1540

michelangelo buonarroti (Caprese, 1475 - 1564, Rome)

Pietà, 1540

Black chalk on paper, 28.9 x 18.9 cm (11 3/8 x 7 7/16 in.) sheet


Object details

Accession number





Given by Michelangelo to Vittoria Colonna (1490–1547), Marchesa di Pescara and poet, in 1540.
Collection of Louis-Charles Brunet (1746–1825), Paris.
Collection of Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830), English painter and collector.
Purchased by Samuel Woodburn (1780/5–1853), British art dealer, from Archibald Keightly, the executor of Sir Lawrence's estate, in 1834.
Offered at the auction of Samuel Woodburn's collection by Christie and Manson, London on 24 June1854, lot 1788. Unsold.
Purchased by a dealer, Enson, at auction from the sale of Samuel Woodburn's collection by Christie, Manson and Woods, London on 4 June 1860 for £52 10s, lot 119.
Collection of Mr. Brooks, Liverpool until 1872.
Acquired by Francis Turner Palgrave (1827–1897), British critic and poet, by 1884.
Purchased by Sir John Charles Robinson (1824–1913), British museum curator and art collector, at auction from a sale which included the remaining portion of Francis Turner Palgrave's collection at Christie, Manson and Woods, London on 4 June 1886, lot 8.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner at auction from the sale of Sir John Charles Robinson's collection at Christie, Manson and Woods, London on 13 May 1902 for £560 through the dealers Thomas Agnew & Sons, lot 206.


Watermark: ladder in a circle with a star. ['Ladder C'. See J. Roberts. A Dictionary of Michelangelo's Watermarks (Milan, 1988), p. 23]
Inscribed by Michelangelo in pencil (upright of the Cross): nonvisipensa.quanto.sangu[...]. [Dante, Divine Comedy, Paradise, XXIX, 91]
Inscribed in pen and brown ink (lower left): JCR [collector's mark of Sir John Charles Robinson, Lugt 1433]
Blind stamped (lower left): T.L. [Sir Thomas Lawrence (Lugt 2445)]
Inscribed in pencil (verso of an earlier mount): 206 [lot number in Robinson sale]
Inscribed in pencil by Francis Turner Palgrave (verso of an earlier mount): M. A. Buonarroti / Brunet - Lawrence - Brooks Coll[ectio]ns / 1872 / F. T. Palgrave / I take this to be the drawing in which Michel Angelo, in his later life, "published" the design, which was twice or thrice engraved + several times produced in oil (e.g. at Panshangen) about that time: + that it was hence rubbed + cut. The cross, which had a peculiar top, was one in repute for some time at Florence.
"Non si vi pensa, quanto sangue costa" is from the Commedia; Paradiso, CXXIX / 11 Aug 1884 / F. T. P.
Inscribed in pen and brown ink by John Charles Robinson (verso of the same earlier mount): The above is written by Francis Turner Palgrave and the drawing was sold in the remaining portion of his collection of ancient drawings included in the sale at Christie's (Lord Breadalbane's drawings &c) June 4, 1886 and was purchased by myself. It is unquestionaby an authentic drawing of Michel Angelo's later time. The watermark in the paper, a ladder within a circle, will be found in my Oxford "account of M Angelo & Raffaelle drawing, it is no 19 in the table of facsimile marks, and was copied from one of the Oxford drawings (no 80) - an architectural design for a window, circa 1541-65. The present dra [wing] belongs undoubtedly to the same epoch. J.C. Robinson
Inscribed in pen and brown ink by John Charles Robinson (verso of the same earlier mount): The drawing is no 64 in the Woodburn exhibition Catalogue July 1836 size 11 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches - from the collection of M Brunet of Paris.
Stamped (verso of the same earlier mount): ISG [collector's mark of Isabella Stewart Gardner]
Inscribed in blue ink (verso of the same earlier mount): This drawing was purchased by me from the Robinson collection, through Messers. Agnew, in London- Summer 1902 / Isabella Stewart Gardner / Fenway Court Boston USA.

Dimension Notes

Frame: 53.34 x 40.64 cm (21 x 16 in.)


Ascanio Condivi. Vita di Michelangelo Buonarroti scritta da Ascanio Condivi suo discepolo. (Pisa, 1823), p. 78.
Ascanio Condivi. Vita di Michelangelo Buonarroti (Rome,1553), ed. by C. Frey (Berlin, 1887), p. 202.
Samuel and Allen Woodburn. A Catalogue of One Hundred Original Drawings by Michael Angelo, Collected by Sir Thomas Lawrence ...Exh. cat. (London: The Lawrence Gallery, July 1836), p. 23, no. 64. (as a study for the celebrated Pieta engraved by Julio Bonasone)
Christie and Manson. Catalogue of the Highly Interesteing and Important Collection of Drawings,... the property of that well-known Judge of the Fine Arts, Samuel Woodburn, Esq... (London, 24 June 1854), p. 76, lot 1788.
Christie, Manson and Woods. Catalogue of a Valuable Collection of Drawings by Old Masters Formerly in the Collection of the late Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A, and more recently the Property of Samuel Woodburn, Esq.... (London, 4 June 1860), p. 11, lot 119.
Christie, Manson and Woods. Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters from the Collection of the late Marquis of Breadablbane and Others, the Property of a Nobleman... (London, 4 June 1886), p. 4, lot 8.
Christie, Manson and Woods. Catalogue of a Valuable Collection of Drawings by Old Masters Formed by a Well-Known Amateur During the Last Forty Years (London, 12-14 May 1902), p. 24, lot 206.
Bernard Berenson. The Drawings of the Florentine Painters (Chicago and London, 1938), II, p. 235, no. 1623 C, fig. 736. (as a copy)
Charles de Tolnay. "Michelanelo's Pietà Composition for Vittoria Colonna." Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 12, no. 2 (1953), pp. 45 n. 3, 48-49. (as original presentation drawing given to Colonna by Michelangelo)
Rollin van N. Hadley (ed.). Drawings: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1968), pp. 12-15, no. 7.
Frederick Hartt. Michelangelo drawings (New York, 1970), p.323, no. 455, 326, ill. (as datable to 1538-40)
Reiner Haussherr. Michelangelos Kruzifixus für Vittoria Colonna; Bemerkungen zu Ikonographie und theologischer Deutung (Opladen, 1971), p. 10, fig. 4
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 64-65, ill. (as datable to around 1540-44)
Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt. "Mrs. Gardner's Renaissance." Marks of Identity: New Perspectives on Sixteenth-Century Italian Sculpture. Fenway Court, vol. 23 (1990-1991), pp. 10-30, ill. cover.
Hilliard Goldfarb. Italian Renaissance Drawings, Medals, and Books. Exploring Treasures in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum I. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1991), p. [11].
Hilliard Goldfarb. Imaging the Self in Renaissance Italy. Exploring Treasures in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum III. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1992), pp. 41-43, ill.
Kristina Herrmann Fiore. "Disegni di Michelangelo in omaggio a Vittoria Colonna e tracce del poema di Dante." in Corrado Gizzi. (ed.) Michelangelo e Dante. Exh. cat. (Abruzzo: Casa di Dante, 1995), pp. 96,97 99-104, ill.
Hilliard Goldfarb. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A Companion Guide and History (Boston, 1995), pp. 78, 80.
Alexander Nagel. "Gifts for Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna." Art Bulletin 8, no. 4 (Dec. 1997), pp. 648-50, 655, fig. 1.
Sylvia Ferino-Pagden (ed.). Vittoria Colonna: Dichterin und Muse Michelangelos. Exh. cat. (Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1997), pp. 426-28, no. IV.36.
Hilliard Goldfarb et al. Italian Paintings and Drawings Before 1800 in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Unpublished manuscript. (Boston, 1996-2000).
Claudia-Elisabetta Schurr. Vittoria Colonna und Michelangelo Buonarotti: Künstler- und Liebespaar der Renaissance (Tübingen, 2001), p. 183, ill.
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 80-83.
Lucilla Bardeschi Ciulich and Pina Ragionieri (eds.) Michelangelo: grafia e biografia: disegni e autografi del maestro. Exh. cat. (Rome: Palazzo di Venezia; Biel-Bienne: Fondation Baula, 2002), p. 70, ill.
Pian Ragionieri (ed.). Vittoria Colonna e Michelangelo.Exh. cat. (Florence: Casa Buonarroti, 2005), pp. 152-53, fig. 29.
Maria Forcellino. Michelangelo, Vittoria Colonna e gli spirituali: religiosità e vita artistica a Roma negli anni Quaranta (Rome, 2009), pp. 64-75, fig. 1.
Megan Holmes. The Miraculous Image in Renaissance Florence (New Haven, 2013), pp. 155, 158, fig. 136.
Michael Cole et al. Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini. Sculptors’ Drawings from Renaissance Italy. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2014), pp.186-87, cat. 23.
Lorraine de la Verpillière. "'God is in the details': visual culture of closeness in the circle of Cardinal Reginald Pole." Renaissance Studies (2015), pp. 1-21, fig. 1.
Maria Forcellino. "Vittoria Colonna and Michelangelo: Drawings and Paintings" in Abigail Brundin et. al. (eds.). A Companion to Vittoria Colonna (Boston, 2016), pp. 270-313, fig. 7.2
Maria Forcellino. "Un nuovo disegno copia della Pietà di Michelangelo per Vittoria Colonna e Reginald Pole." Arte Lombarda, no. 179-180 (2017), pp. 49-57, fig. 1.
Carmen C. Bambach. Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer. Exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017), pp. 194-95, 198-99, pl. 170.
Jessica Maratos. "Michelangelo, Vittoria Colonna, and the Afterlife of Intimacy." The Art Bulletin (December 2017), pp. 69-99, fig. 2.
Bernadine Barnes. Michelangelo and the Viewer in His Time (London, 2017), pp. 171-72, 175, 223, fig. 54.
Lorenzo Pericolo. "'Donna bella e crudele': Michelangelo's Divine Heads in Light of the Rime." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz (2017), pp. 229-230.
Cammy Brothers. "A Lady of Letters." The Wall Street Journal (28-29 Apr. 2018), p. C9, ill.
Ramie Targoff. Renaissance Woman: The Life of Vittoria Colonna (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018), pp. 188-190, ill.

Rights and reproductions

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Michelangelo made this highly finished drawing at the request of Vittoria Colonna, among the most accomplished women of the Renaissance. The widowed marchesa of Pescara, admired for her learning, piety, and eloquence, was active in religious circles and published acclaimed spiritual poetry. When they met about 1536, she became one of Michelangelo’s few intimate friends, and the only woman among them. He too was a poet, and the pair exchanged verses and letters, which joined with the designs he gave her in a heartfelt dialogue about their mutual enthusiasms for church reform and the arts.

Though titled a Pietà, the drawing actually telescopes two consecutive episodes from Christ’s Passion, doubling its theological and emotional impact. The venerable Pietà theme spotlights the Virgin alone over her prostrate son, just taken down from the cross; in this image, she mouths a grief-stricken appeal for heavenly consolation. But Mary is here upstaged by Christ, who is suspended in frontal view by two boyish angels – a group recalling the Man of Sorrows theme, a later moment that emphasizes Christ’s physical sacrifice as his corpse slumps in the tomb.

Like much of Michelangelo’s work, the drawing is deeply autobiographical. The key to its meanings, both public and private, lies in the verse from Dante’s Paradiso inscribed on the (now partly-cropped) cross: “There they don’t think of how much blood it costs” (Non vi si pensa quanto sangue costa). Michelangelo, who knew much of Dante by heart, quotes canto 29, where Beatrice deplores how few on earth appreciate the sacrifices martyrs make to spread the divine gospel down there, or how pleasing to God are those who cling to it. The message is conventional – the hardships of propagating the true faith – but it also held personal spiritual meaning for artist and recipient alike. Both traveled in Roman circles that preached salvation by faith, which might be achieved by prayerfully contemplating sacred events: Michelangelo’s late poetry increasingly invoked the blood shed by Christ, while Colonna wrote a “Lament over the Passion” which imagined the Virgin “delighting in this pain.” Michelangelo’s gift thus offered consoling testimony to their shared conviction that the savior’s tragic death is also a cause for joy, the climax of God’s divine comedy that offers each believing soul the hope of a happy ending.

In more individual terms, Michelangelo idealized Colonna as the kind of guardian angel Dante saw in Beatrice – a spiritual guide in their joint struggle toward paradise. “A man within a woman, or rather a god / speaks through her mouth,” he wrote, addressing her as “you who pass souls / through fire and water on to days of joy.” The drawing celebrates their closest bond: unlike most people “down there,” they do think of the divine matters he has depicted for her. The Pietà is thus a study of Colonna, though not in any literal sense. Michelangelo disdained painting mere likenesses: since inner beauty counts more than outer, an allegory of the beloved’s devout imagination reveals more than a record of her face. This is the portrait of a soul, not a body.

Colonna received the Pietà as one of three presentation drawings from Michelangelo. This was a new genre – completed sketches suitable as gifts. Michelangelo gave away such drawings only as testimonials of exceptional affection, and the Gardner image (and its recipient) must have been close to his heart, since he made sure his biographer Ascanio Condivi discussed it in detail. The Colonna group of drawings followed by a few years Michelangelo’s other major suite, for his greatest male love, Tommaso de’ Cavalieri. The two series embody the contrasting poles of Renaissance culture: Cavalieri’s drawings, all on classical mythological themes, ponder the joys and pitfalls of earthly love, while Colonna’s are on Christian subjects concerned with heavenly affections. Michelangelo’s infatuation with Tommaso was expressed in poems whose erotic frankness was startling for the time; his later verses to Vittoria still speak of Petrarchan longing. Condivi records Michelangelo saying that he created her Crucifixion drawing “for love of that lady,” but Condivi then makes clear that it was her “sublime spirit he was in love with.” The aging artist’s personal evolution reflected the widespread sobering of Catholic culture during the Counter-Reformation: where images once kindled passion, they now aimed to arouse chaste meditation.

The drawing enjoyed a widespread and influential afterlife. It was copied by Michelangelo’s assistants and adapted by artists such as Lavinia Fontana. The opportunity to fashion a symbolic pedigree no doubt appealed to Mrs. Gardner, who chose many treasures for their personal associations and conceived Fenway Court as an extended self-portrait. The grieving mother theme would have resonated for a woman who lost her only son as a baby. And she shared Michelangelo’s affinity for Dante, whose printed editions she collected; her affinity for Michelangelo himself is attested by her purchase of a painting then considered a portrait of him (actually Baccio Bandinelli). Most suggestively, she identified with cultured and powerful Renaissance women, adopting Isabella d’Este, the first great woman art impresario, as a patron saint and role model. She may well have felt a similar kinship with Vittoria Colonna: beyond shared artistic interests, both were childless women who raised orphaned nephews as surrogate sons, and Isabella was, like Vittoria, piously observant, with her own private chapel. We could equally conclude of Mrs. Gardner’s Pietà what her biographer said of the acquisition of another Renaissance Madonna: “In it her love of beauty and her devotion to religion were united.”

Source: James M. Saslow, "Pietà," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 81.