The Two Pietas It is doubtful that there could be two sculptures on the exact same subject with the same figures in much the same pose that would be in more contrast to each other. Michelangelos Pieta in the Florentine style is very realistic and quite beautiful. It is carved in marble and the pale stone lends an air of serenity to the scene. The Rottgen Pieta has no mood of serenity, but, instead, it invokes horror. It is carved in wood and painted in various shades of brown. The color, alone, changes the mood.
The quiet gray and white of the marble is in stark contrast to the almost angry browns of the wood. The pose of the two is similar, and neither figure of the dead Christ is in scale with the Madonna. However, in the Rottgen even the mothers figure is out of proportion, with a much larger head than her body. Michaelangelo may have intended to his version to be places high, and that would account for the smaller body of Christ, as it would look in proportion from below. However, the German version is almost grotesque in its proportions with a Madonna with a very large head and small body and then the smaller Christ on her lap, also with a large head, though slightly smaller than hers, and a nearly emaciated body, as if He had been starving before He died. Of course this fits with the emotional climate of the time as many people actually were suffering from plagues and famine in Germany. The face of the Madonna in Michelangelos sculpture is much younger looking and innocent by contrast with the Rottgen version.
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Her face is not just older looking, but her expression is almost angry, certainly stunned. She appears to be in a state of horror, while the marble Madonna seems to be in more a state of quiet acceptance, though certainly sad to the point of near despair. The Gothic statue is smaller than the Florentine, which is nearly life sized, and the first one was made for display in a village square, probably by a patron with less money, while Michelangelos was commissioned by a richer patron for display in the church. It is interesting to note that the German church split from the Catholic church about the time of this sculpting, so it might also have been an expression of strife with Rome, and anger with the church.. The way that the body lays in the Madonnas lap is also different. Michaelangelo made his look like the body was simply lain in Marys very ample lap (with the full skirt), and He seems to be at peace, while the Rottgen Christ looks as if He may still be in pain.
It seems as if the German version was more than just a religious statue, but was a statement about the general suffering of the people. It seems to show well the difference between Italian art and German art. Italian art was expected to be beautiful and show scenes which uplifted the viewer, while German art was allowed to express more negative emotions by contrast. In a way, the German version is more true to the subject, though less realistic in form. Art in German was becoming more representative of the people, while in Italy and France it was still the purview of the aristocracy..