Art and music have a way of touching me in a way that words do not. I have always found much solace in seeing brilliant colors like cerulean paired with subtle hues of baby blue. So too have I been comforted upon hearing brilliant tones highlighted by subtle changes in volume.
One of my most favorite works of art though, is Michelangelo’s Pietà. A statue originally commissioned for a cardinal’s funeral monument, which shows the Virgin Mary holding her son Jesus after his death. While I prefer Michelangelo’s Pietà – because of its simplicity and elegance, I find the image of any Pietà awe-inspiring. The thought of Mary holding her deceased son, as translated by a variety of artists in their own creative medium, affects me greatly. I am brought to a level of comfort and peace which words cannot adequately describe.
Upon reflection, there is one reason why the Pietà holds meaning for me. I can, to some extent, relate to that image because of my own story. Michelangelo was able to capture not only grief but also grace and beauty in the midst of something traumatic – both of which I have and still experience.
Here is this young mother cradling her son, her baby, in much the same way as she probably did when he was an infant. It is this which strikes me, as I recall my own mother expressing both the grief she experienced when she viewed for the first time, my brother’s dead body. But also the comfort which she had in being able to stroke his head and hold his hand – I believe a gesture to comfort her nineteen year old baby, but also a symbol of the comfort he gave – his presence, his body and spirit gave to her when he was alive.
While that experience is not mine, the image that I have of my mother holding her deceased son’s hand has become intertwined in my story of grief and loss. I find it tragic and yet at the same time, peaceful.
For me, the image of the Pietà is one that captures Mary’s experience of grief and loss, but is an image symbolic of other person’s stories of grief and loss – my own included. As I reflect more and more on this image, further questions come to mind about what Mary experienced, about what my own mother experienced, about what other mother’s have experienced after losing a child.
I am comforted by this piece because it is an elegant portrayal of a Mother’s grief – one in which both sorrow and grace, even in the midst of such tragedy, were present. I am further calmed because the experience of loss, while very personal, is something universal – something which connects each human being. The gift of this life – of the human person, and the love we have for others, which makes loss so difficult, was captured in and is why I appreciate so much, the Pietà.
Kate McGrath 2010