Aug. 26, 1498: Michelangelo commissioned to carve Pietà

On this day—Aug. 26, 1498—Michelangelo was commissioned to carve the Pietà. The statue, which depicts Jesus lying in the lap of the Virgin Mary after his crucifixion, was commissioned by the French cardinal Jean de Billheres. The sculpture was meant to be the cardinal’s funeral monument but was moved to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in the 18th century. Michelangelo carved his name across Mary’s sash, and the Pietà is the only work he ever signed.

The work has undergone damage in recent years, most notably in 1972 when Laszlo Toth attacked the statue with a geologist’s hammer, shouting, “I am Jesus Christ.” As a result, the sculpture is now protected by bullet-proof glass. The Pietà is notable for being one of Michelangelo’s most highly finished works, and for balancing the Renaissance’s classical beauty with naturalism.