O ombra del morir, per cui si ferma
ogni miseria a l'alma, al cor nemica,
ultimo delli afflitti e buon rimedio;
tu rendi sana nostra carn'inferma,
rasciughi i pianti e posi ogni fatica,
e furi a chi ben vive ogn'ira e tedio.
Rima 102 Michelangelo Buonarotti
Unfinished, this Pietà, because out of time. Like many of his poems, the statue seems a dialogue with death, not a glorious passing or a final judgement, but with the failing of the light, the loss of power, the melting back to dust. On the Medici tombs at S Lorenzo the detail of faces of Dawn and Twilight, Night and Day remain unfinished, slightly vague, an allegory of the fading of day escaping notice, until it is too late. Here, death and loss seem frozen in time and in the act of creation. Halfway between an emerging and a fading back into the earth, one wonders if the figures are coming towards us out of the marble, or receding back into it, losing their hold on a defined existence outside the rock.
Two figures, sharing this fate, fused at the torso. Marks on the statue show that originally the upper body of Christ was detatched. In his final version, the two come together in a single gesture of support given and taken, the smooth muscular legs of youth giving way, relying on the power of the rough hewn stone. The faces are unfinished, lined, worn, for all the centuries set in permanent pity, for telling the same story over and again, resigned to the inescapable fate of loss and of being captured in that act of losing, the slipping away of things irreplacable. Mary's left hand rests lightly on his heart, a reminder of the fusion between the hand and heart of the maestro himself: "non si possono esercitare in modi che ben vada l'arti manuali, perché la mano è lo strumento delle arti." Limbs and arts, gli arti e le arti here are inseparable as they had been throughout Michelangelo's life: limbs painted, sculpted and celebrated in poetry, the hands that brought them into being, now at the end of their great career.