By Delle Willett | Contributor
Five hundred years ago, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarotti Simoni unveiled what came to be regarded as one of the world’s great masterpieces of inspired art and perhaps the most beautiful sculpture ever created.
Called the Pietà, the sculpture depicts the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion, death, and removal from the cross, before he was placed in the tomb.
It was both the consummate expression of Michelangelo’s artistic abilities and an embodiment of the divine inspiration that guided his work.
To see the Pietà each year, millions of people travel to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. For security purposes, the statue is enclosed in glass and visitors can’t get very close, let alone touch it. The challenge is to even view it all while there, since you are competing for a peek with the vast numbers of others trying to see it, gathered in all directions.
For those who don’t have the time or money to travel, a new opportunity has presented itself to see the Pietà with none of the Basilica’s restrictions. They can look at it for as long as they want; they can pray; they can touch; they can photograph; they can even sketch.
A posthumous, precise Pietà has been recreated 1:1 in cast Carrera marble from a Vatican-authorized mold of the original, and is on display through 2015 at Alexander Salazar Fine Art Gallery at 1040 Seventh Ave. in Downtown San Diego.
Salazar’s gallery was chosen by Arte Divine, the exclusive sculpture licensee of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, which facilitates the placement of sublime sculptures in settings where they can enlighten the minds and touch the lives and hearts of the faithful.
“We selected Alexander Salazar Fine Art as the venue of choice in San Diego to place these marvelous works of art, in part because of Salazar’s knowledge and passion for the works of Michelangelo and other masters, and also because we felt his gallery provided the perfect Downtown location,” said Michael Jacobson, vice president of corporate relations at Arte Divine.
“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with him, and we look forward to providing him with additional Michelangelo masterpieces in the future,” Jacobson said.
“It’s been interesting having the Pietà in my gallery,” Salazar said. “I’ve had people coming in, kneeling and praying. So this is more than just an art gallery now, it’s a place people are coming to meditate.
“To me, this just changes the entire feeling of an art gallery, and that comes directly from having such an important work of art here,” Salazar added.
While a student, Salazar lived in Florence, Italy, surrounded by art created by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Bernini and others. He also holds a master’s degree in theology and art from Harvard and a second masters in sociology and art from Boston College.
As an art dealer, Salazar said when this project first came to him he wasn’t interested, because religious art is difficult to sell. But his personal interest has always been in religion and religious art.
“So I was motived to share my art experience with people because I was very lucky and blessed to be living in Florence and traveling throughout Italy,” he said. “I thought that with my 18 years of working as an art dealer it finally made sense to have this work in my gallery. I felt like I was preparing for this throughout my career. So it’s a blessing in itself to me and to the gallery”
Also on exhibit is the a bust of the Madonna, which captures the compassion and serenity in Mary’s face with so much grace that, half a millennium later, the vision of it continues to inspire viewers.
Behind the bust, Salazar created a memorial wall called the “Wall of Angels,” and encourages people to bring photos of their loved ones who have passed to place on the wall. They do and they stay to pray.
“What I also find interesting is that people who have vision problems come in and touch the Pietà, feel the movement, the curves and shapes — there’s a connection happening that’s beyond whether or not it’s the actual thing,” Salazar said, who admits he gets goose bumps whenever he thinks about these occasions.
In all, 100 replicas of the Pietà are being made, and are mostly purchased by benefactors who give them to organizations such as churches and schools. Each Pietà is priced at $250,000.
Salazar, 42 and originally from Houston, Texas, opened his own gallery five years ago on the corner of Broadway and Seventh Street in Downtown San Diego. His current gallery is around the corner at 1040 Seventh St., where he mainly works with private collectors, architects and designers. Recently he has been working with local artists with the intention of supporting the local art community.
Alexander Salazar’s current gallery hours are by appointment but he would love to have people come in groups to see the Pietà and the Bust of the Madonna, and other art in the gallery, including copies of the Medici art.
—Delle Willett is a PR consultant and a freelance journalist. She does pro-bono work for organizations that empower women and work to end world hunger. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.