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Oremland, J.D. (1980). Mourning and Its Effect on Michelangelo's Art. Ann. Psychoanal., 8:317-351.

(1980). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 8:317-351

Mourning and Its Effect on Michelangelo's Art

Jerome D. Oremland, M.D.

In a previous paper, I discussed the evolution of certain themes depicted in Michelangelo's pieta sculptures (Oremland, 1978). I conjectured that the striking curiosity in the first pieta, the Pieta in St. Peter's, of the mother's being the same age or even younger than the dead son, is, in fact, an important component of the statue's enormous evocative capacity (Fig. 1). I suggested that the statue is a dreamlike condensation pictorializing allegorical man at the end of life's travail returned to the young mother of his infancy—the eternal cycle of birth and death. The Rondanini Pieta, his last sculptured work, was seen as an artistic intensification of the first pieta. The paper asserted that Michelangelo's earliest portrayals of the madonna, characterized by the infant's struggling to return to the body of the mother, were the forerunners of the last sculptured work, which in a remarkably abstract manner depicts the fusion of the adult dead son into the body of the mother (Fig. 2).

Though the earlier paper, modeled after Freud's study of the Moses statue (1914), largely concerned itself with the study of the artistic depictions and their evocative power, biographical data concerning Michelangelo's early experience were central to the thesis. In short, I suggested that Michelangelo's pietas and madonnas reflected the fact that Michelangelo was taken from his ill mother shortly after birth, sent to live with a wet nurse, and returned to his mother shortly after being weaned—a very early loss.

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