My brother and I share a deep and abiding love of Michelangelo's Pietà (the most famous, the one in St Peter's, which he completed when he was just 23). He has sent me a link to a brilliant essay on it from an American art critic who has written a personal, moving and insightful piece which you can find here. If you have half an hour to spend I strongly commend it to you.
When I went to see it with my friend Philippa in 2004 we each bought a copy of the collected photographs of the pietà by the Austrian sound engineer and photographer Robert Hupka, best known for his huge collection of photographs of Toscanini. When the Pietà went on tour to New York for the Wolrd Fair in 1964 he was granted unique access to photograph it from unusual and unprecedented angles. His pictures are truly wonderful, as though the brilliance of the sculpture
insipired him to new photographic heights, and more than simply documenting the original work they create a new dialogue between media and across the centuries. Here are some of his images:
Here the lighting is so amazing, and the marble looks almost supple, like waxy cold dead flesh.
What I especially love about these pictures is the intimacy and emotional immediacy which you can never hope to feel stood on the far side of the sheet of protective glass amongst the milling crowd of chattering tourists. I also loathe the multicoloured marble backdrop in St Peter's and think the plain black backing is perfect.
Hupka saw the Pietà from angles none of us will ever be able to, including, most spectacularly, directly above. And he captures planes and angles which one doesn't see from the front. But more than the technical genius, he shows us something important about the work: that like a photograph, it depicts a specific moment in time. In fact, it enacts Cartier-Bresson's 'decisive moment.' The idea that a sculpture, the most solid and atemporal of art forms, and a photograph, perhaps the most ephemeral, can both come down to this, is a surprising one. Sometimes looking through another artist's eyes helps you see wholly new things in the original work.