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Michelangelo Labors to Make His Masterpiece—the Pieta

Michelangelo Buonarroti was born March 6, 1475, in Tuscany, Italy, and became, along with Leonardo da Vinci, the creative force behind the Italian Renaissance …. Over his lifetime [Michelangelo produced] a body of work that was as diverse as it was distinguished …. His most monumental achievement, though, is [his famous statue of Jesus and his mother Mary called] the Pieta.

The Pieta was commissioned on August 27, 1498. Not only was the work to be unsurpassed in its beauty, it was to be unsurpassable. For the sculpture, Michelangelo searched the quarries for just the right type of stone …. Michelangelo often spent months in [the city of] Carrara, where, with paternal care, he selected the marble, oversaw its extraction and arranged its transportation.

Once the stout cube of marble arrived in his studio, the young Michelangelo went to work. He labored over it for almost two years, sweating over it in the sweltering heat of summer and shivering over it in the biting cold of winter …. He was a man on a mission.

From its overall structure to its smallest detail, the Pieta is a work of unsurpassed beauty. [A contemporary of Michelangelo wrote]: "It would be impossible for any craftsman or sculptor no matter how brilliant ever to surpass the grace or design of this work …."

[Now] if Michelangelo worked this passionately on the Pieta, how much more passionately must God be working on his art? We are God's workmanship …. And God, as an impassioned artist, won't rest until that work is everything he envisioned it to be.

The way God works is similar to the way Michelangelo worked, as he used different tools to achieve different results. He used the hammer, which was his primary tool, along with a variety of pointed chisels that he used to shape the block. Some chisels had serrated edges. Others were flat. Each had its own role in shaping the marble, its own special use, however slight. He also had an assortment of rasps and abrasives.

The tools of a torturer. Or so it seems.

From the perspective of the onlooker, when the artist begins his work, every blow from the hammer seems a random act of violence, every bite of the chisel, a senseless act of vandalism. From the perspective of the slab, the blows it receives are even more difficult to comprehend …. [In the same way], the circumstances of our life, which God uses to craft our character, are often jarring, sometimes difficult to understand and difficult to endure.

[But] we are the work of his hands …. Which is to say, we are roughly quarried stone on our way to becoming the magnum opus of God, the "great work" of his life. The work he thinks of, dreams of …. We are a masterpiece in the making. And not just any masterpiece. His masterpiece. More magnificent than the Pieta.

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