Look into the face of Mary and see what the sculptor of the Pieta did in 1499. Across her lap is the body of her 33-year-old son, but her face is that of the teenage girl who first heard an angel announce that she was about to become an unwed mother. She had no guarantee that Joseph would marry her. She lived in a culture that severely punished anything that was considered immorality in women, yet she accepted the duty placed on her, and this is the way that duty ended with her beloved child dead in her arms not knowing yet where this road will end. There is grief on that face, but there is acceptance and trust in the future as well. Michelangelo takes a block of hard, cold marble and makes you see the passion, glory and the ultimate end of doing one’s duty no matter where it leads as a simple act of faith.
In 1972 a man by the name of LASZLO TOTH damaged the Pieta with a hammer. He was never charged with a criminal offense. On 29 January of the following year he was declared a dangerous person and was ordered confined to a mental hospital. On 9 February 1975, the Hungarian-born, Australian geologist was released from the hospital and deported from Italy as an undesirable alien. His act of madness had its own result. The Vatican announced that the team of restorers attempting to repair the damage that Toth had inflicted on the Pieta had discovered a previously unknown secret signature of Michelangelo on the palm of the Madonna’s left hand – an “M” fashioned from the skin lines reproduced in marble as another mark from the genius who brought her to life once more.
Several centuries later another great sculptor took on a similar subject. Marble was not August Rodin’s favorite medium, yet he produced many famous ones such as The Kiss, The Lovers, and The Hand of God. Instead of marble he preferred the casting in bronze and one of his greatest is the Fallen Caryatid.
Years ago, Robert Heinlein used this bronze of the Caryatid in Stranger in a Strange Land to attempt to show beauty where apparently there was none. His words:
This poor little Caryatid has fallen under the load. She’s a good girl—look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone,not even the gods and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.
But she’s more than just good art denouncing bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who ever shouldered a load too heavy. But not alone women–this symbol means every man and woman who ever sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage…and victory. Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up…she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her…she’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t make it but never quit.
So there you have two young girls, one in marble and the other in bronze trying to lift marble, who were asked to shoulder burdens way beyond their years. In the process they become examples to all of the glory that comes from simply doing what is right when it is necessary.