This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Transforming the Pieta

Some of You Misunderstood!

Two weeks ago I wrote for you a widely popular posting titled 'Transforming the Copse'. Many of you emailed me to express your interest and bliss (well, maybe not bliss actually -- let's say pleasure) in seeing the multiple interpretations of that simple copse of trees.

...two years of arduous work, marble chips flying, callouses covering his hands — all relegated to another sculptor!

But, I must say that a few of you pointed out that you were stymied by my title, which some of you misread as 'Transforming the Corpse'.

But hey! You've given me an idea. Let's run with that misunderstood title for this weeks article!

Today I take that rather humorous misunderstanding as the subject of this week's article, which is indeed about transforming the corpse -- the most famous corpse of all: Corpus Christi. 

Michelangelo's Pieta' and a Humorous Anecdote

Have you been to St Peter's Basilica in Rome? If you have, you have undoubtedly seen the Pieta' sitting to the right as you enter. And because a deranged geologist took a rock pick to the sculpture in 1972, it is now protected by bulletproof glass, which makes it a bit challenging to get a good photograph of this marvelous work of art.  

Everyone knows that Michelangelo is a fabulous painter (the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for example) and sculptor (the David statute and of course, the Pieta). And he typically did not have a huge ego problem -- for instance he never signed any of his sculptures...or did he?

Shortly after the installation of his Pieta, as he was admiring how it was being displayed, Michelangelo overheard someone remark that it was the work of another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari, rather than himself. Ouch -- two years of arduous work, marble chips flying, callouses covering his hands -- all relegated to another sculptor! 

Late that night, Michelangelo made a change to the Pieta by chiseling an inscription on the sash running across Mary's chest that said, "Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this". He later regretted his prideful outburst and swore never to sign another of his works. 

Step 1: The Original Snapshot

The first photo below is my original snapshot. I had to wait for a moment when the crowds parted before taking this photo. Ooops, the security setting is now a bit obvious because of the window being reflected in the bullet-proof glass. 

Original, unaltered photo

Step 2: A Minor Bit of Adjustment

Standing in front of this historic art work, you are mesmerized by it's beauty and you don't really notice the color cast. But now I do. So, I did a bit of work to remove the yellow cast created by the tungsten light. Then, I was able to recover some of the detail lost in the reflection. A bit of cropping resulted in the photo below.

Color cast  and distractions removed, and a bit of cropping

Step 3: The Final Transformation

I found the marble stonework in the background to be too much competition for Michelangelo's masterpiece, so I deemphasized it by darkening the background.

Next, to emphasize the texture of the stone-cutting work of Michelangelo, I worked on what we call 'mid-tone contrast' in the photo-editing world. Usually, we talk of contrast in terms of the differences in the lightest and darkest parts of an image. But here, I wanted to emphasize the differences between lighter and darker elements of the photo in the stonework itself, which is in the mid-tones of the image (i.e. not the lightest or darkest parts). 

Finally, as it is that texture, and not the color, that is so important to the Pieta', I desaturated the photo just a tad to call your attention to that marvelous texture.

The resulting photo below is my interpretation of Michelangelo's work as I saw it right there with my own eyes -- with every fold and crevice created by his masterful hand vividly portrayed. And this is just the way I wanted you to see it, too. 

This example of the transformation of the world's most famous corpse, as well as the other transformations you can see on my website, is what fuels my passion in photography. It's wonderful out there in the world, and I strive to show it to you in a different way, through my own eyes. 

Have a comment you want to share about this transformation? Feel free to use the comment box, below. 


Ciao for now,