Michelangelo's 'La Pieta' replica in Phoenix

PHOENIX - "It would be impossible for any craftsman or sculptor, no matter how brilliant, ever to surpass the grace or design of this work, or try to cut and polish the marble with the skill that Michelangelo displayed. It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have reduced to perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh." Georgio Vasari (1511-1574), art historian, describing Michelangelo's La Pietà.

For months now, as I sat in the back pews during Sunday Mass at Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Phoenix, my eyes, then my mind, often drifted toward a work of art, a sculpture, which sits to the left of the altar and to the right of the pulpit.

The sculpture is a "life-size exacting replica" of Michelangelo's La Pietà.

"This is a cast of the master made from the mold of the original," says Steven Bishop founder of Vescovo Buonarroti Art.

Vescovo Buonarroti Art is the exclusive licensee for Michelangelo's La Pietà by the Vatican Observatory Foundation.

The sculpture is that of Mary "cradling" the crucified body of Jesus in her lap.

According to his website , he says after becoming "awestruck" standing before La Pietà at Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Bishop and his family returned to Rome and "secured the exclusive worldwide licenses from the Vatican Observatory Foundation to replicate La Pietà."

Their mission is to bring La Pietà to the "millions of people, who would otherwise never travel to the Vatican," to share the "profound experience" Bishop and his family had.

Today in Rome, La Pietà can be seen only at a distance and only through bullet proof glass .

"The intimacy in viewing the original Pietà is lost," Bishop says.

Through the Vescovo Buonarroti "exacting" replicas -- some permanently placed and others touring -- Bishop brings a little bit of Rome to those who may never have a chance to get there.

It is a "holy and sacred experience seeing it (La Pietà)," Bishop says.

To those who have seen La Pietà in Rome, they can now not only see, but touch and feel Michelangelo's divine conception up close.

"This was created by the hand of Michelangelo," Bishop says, "with the help of divinity, to be a witness of the Saviour."

La Pietà "provides hope that not only do we die, we have a hope for a resurrection."

A Vescovo Buonarroti La Pietà can be experienced in Phoenix at Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, 2312 E. Campbell Ave., through May. For church times to view La Pietà, contact the parish office at 602-954-9089 or visit the parish website .

The next stop for a La Pietà replica, Bishop says, will be near Ground Zero, at Saint Peter's Roman Catholic Church, New York City.

A brief history of La Pietà

  • After being commissioned to create the piece and after hand picking a single block of Carrara marble, Michelangelo Buonarroti sculpted the Pietà in a two year span (1498-1500). The work "established Michelangelo instantly as the greatest sculptor of his time."
  • In 1932, with World War I over and a new war on the horizon, the Vatican thought it a good idea to have a back up for their sculptures in the event the originals were destroyed. A mold of the Pieta was made.
  • In 1972 the Pietà was vandalized, suffering damage to Mary's nose and eye. Her left arm was shattered. After being restored, La Pietà has sat behind bullet proof glass ever since.
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