The Pieta Project

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls recalled that it was Pope Paul VI who, after the Pieta was exhibited in the United States in 1964, gave instructions that the statue could not leave the Vatican without a special papal permit.

The Pieta was one of Michelangelo's earliest works of sculpture and the only one he signed. It stands in St. Peter's Basilica, behind a protective glass screen installed after a deranged Hungarian-born Australian damaged the statue with a hammer in 1972.

Considered one of the most solemn creations in the history of art, the Pieta has been the subject for hundreds of artists, most of them created during the Italian Renaissance.

A retired humanities teacher from suburban Pittsburgh has a different plan in mind for the Pieta. Thomas Steiner has launched what he calls “The Pieta Project” in an effort to photograph as many versions of this sacred moment as possible.

“The idea came to mind five years ago when I first visited Italy and viewed Michelangelo's masterpiece at the Vatican,” said Steiner. “As a teacher of humanities at the high school level for over 15 years, I had exposed hundreds of students to this great work of art and religion. However, only after viewing this incredible sculpture did I realize the full impact of the subject.”

Upon returning home, Steiner began to photograph other artists' renderings of the subject. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, the National Gallery in Washington and Erie Cathedral in Pennsylvania are among the locations he has visited. He also discovered versions of the Pieta in cemeteries, small-town churches and ethnic churches.

“There are so many interpretations in marble, plaster and wood,” he said. “I decided it would be a wonderful project to find and photograph as many different styles as possible.”

Steiner is asking for assistance in locating freestanding or relief Pieta sculptures from across the country. To help in his search he is soliciting photographs (either printed or scanned) and the location of the sculptures. He promises to return all photographs to the sender. He can be reached at 754 East Madison Circle, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15229. Those e-mailing photos can send them to

Steiner's goal is to publish a collection of Pieta photographs representing every geographic area of the country. He will include brief descriptions and information about the sculptor, the location and the history of each piece.

The success of his project is dependent upon the response to his search. “I'm counting on help from everyone who hears about the project, not just Catholics,” he said. “And I'm looking for all types — modern, old, large or small.”

Steiner will not accept any profits from the book. “If my expenses could be covered, that would be fine,” he said. “Should there be any profits beyond expenses, they would be donated to Catholic education programs.

“With your help, I hope to be making plans for my 'dream' project in the next few months.”

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