Saturday, April 03, 2010

Holy Saturday

For our sake Christ was obedient,
accepting even death, death on a cross.
Therefore God raised him on high
and gave him the name above all other names.
Responsory Antiphon, Morning Prayer, Holy Saturday

"The Disposition " or the Florence Pieta
Michelangelo Buonarroti

This uncompleted piece by the master sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti would seem to be a crude effort on the part of a man most well-known for the Pieta viewed by millions every year in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. That awe-inspiring depiction of Mary holding the death body of her son was a bravura perfomance by the youthful energetic Michelangelo. This much later work was intended for his own tomb. After seven years of work, finding a flaw in the marble, the scuptor smashed it into pieces. The remains were rescued by another sculptor, reassembled and the figure of Mary Magdalen on the left was completed. However, like Michelangelo's other uncompleted sculpture, this one has a mysteriously haunting and moving quality. The looming figure of Nicodemus is said to be a self-portrait of the artist. Nicodemus, the one who came to see Jesus only under the cover of darkness, had the courage to go to Pilate and ask for the body of the crucified criminal. Here is a brave figure, protector for Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalen. Yet, the tortured sadness in his face seems tinged with regret. Is it a regret similar to that of St. Augustine, "Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient and ever new." 

Michelangelo Buornarroti spent the last years of his life working on two Pieta sculptures. One was intended for his own tomb. He used his face as the model for the dominant figure in one of these pieces. That figure was of a man who slowly and maybe too late fully realized who Jesus truly was. We may conclude that this event of the Passion of Jesus haunted Michelangelo in its poignancy and may have touched some of his own feeling of regret at the end of his earthly life. As you gaze upon this image, which character draws you? Is it the lifeless Jesus or his grieving mother? Is it the bereft Magdalen, present to Jesus even in his crucifixion and death? Or is it Nicodemus, once fearful and later brave, who agonizes in regretful grief?

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