He brought with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes , of about a hundred pounds' weight .
They took Jesus's body , then , and wrapped it in winding-clothes with the spices ; ;
that is how the Jews prepare a body for burial .
Listed as present at the Descent were Mary , Mary's sister , Mary Magdalene , John , Joseph of Arimathea , Nicodemus .
Search as he might , he could find no place where the Bible spoke of a moment when Mary could have been alone with Jesus .
Mostly the scene was crowded with mourners , such as the dramatic Dell'Arca Lamentation in Bologna , where the grief-stricken spectators had usurped Mary's last poignant moment .
In his concept there could be no one else present .
His first desire was to create a mother and son alone in the universe .
When might Mary have had that moment to hold her child on her lap ? ?
Perhaps after the soldiers had laid him on the ground , while Joseph of Arimathea was at Pontius Pilate's asking for Christ's body , Nicodemus was gathering his mixture of myrrh and aloes , and the others had gone home to mourn .
Those who saw his finished Pieta would take the place of the biblical witnesses .
They would feel what Mary was undergoing .
There would be no halos , no angels .
These would be two human beings , whom God had chosen .
He felt close to Mary , having spent so long concentrating on the beginning of her journey .
Now she was intensely alive , anguished ; ;
her son was dead .
Even though he would later be resurrected , he was at this moment dead indeed , the expression on his face reflecting what he had gone through on the cross .
In his sculpture therefore it would not be possible for him to project anything of what Jesus felt for his mother ; ;
only what Mary felt for her son .
Jesus' inert body would be passive , his eyes closed .
Mary would have to carry the human communication .
This seemed right to him .
It was a relief to shift in his mind to technical problems .
Since his Christ was to be life size , how was Mary to hold him on her lap without the relationship seeming ungainly ? ?
His Mary would be slender of limb and delicate of proportion , yet she must hold this full-grown man as securely and convincingly as she would a child .
There was only one way to accomplish this : by design , by drawing diagrams and sketches in which he probed the remotest corner of his mind for creative ideas to carry his concept .
He started by making free sketches to loosen up his thinking so that images would appear on paper .
Visually , these approximated what he was feeling within himself .
At the same time he started walking the streets , peering at the people passing or shopping at the stalls , storing up fresh impressions of what they looked like , how they moved .
In particular he sought the gentle , sweet-faced nuns , with head coverings and veils coming to the middle of their foreheads , remembering their expressions until he reached home and set them down on paper .
Discovering that draperies could be designed to serve structural purposes , he began a study of the anatomy of folds .
He improvised as he went along , completing a life-size clay figure , then bought yards of an inexpensive material from a draper , wet the lightweight cloth in a basin and covered it over with clay that Argiento brought from the bank of the Tiber , to the consistency of thick mud .
No fold could be accidental , each turn of the drapery had to serve organically , to cover the Madonna's slender legs and feet so that they would give substantive support to Christ's body , to intensify her inner turmoil .
When the cloth dried and stiffened , he saw what adjustments had to be made .
`` So that's sculpture '' , commented Argiento wryly , when he had sluiced down the floor for a week , `` making mud pies '' .
Michelangelo grinned .
`` See , Argiento , if you control the way these folds are bunched , like this , or made to flow , you can enrich the body attitudes .
They can have as much tactile appeal as flesh and bone '' .
He went into the Jewish quarter , wanting to draw Hebraic faces so that he could reach a visual understanding of how Christ might have looked .
The Jewish section was in Trastevere , near the Tiber at the church of San Francesco a Ripa .
The colony had been small until the Spanish Inquisition of 1492 drove many Jews into Rome .
Here , for the most part , they were well treated , as a `` reminder of the Old Testament heritage of Christianity '' ; ;
many of their gifted members were prominent in the Vatican as physicians , musicians , bankers .
The men did not object to his sketching them while they went about their work , but no one could be persuaded to come to his studio to pose .
He was told to ask for Rabbi Melzi at the synagogue on Saturday afternoon .
Michelangelo found the rabbi in the room of study , a gentle old man with a white beard and luminous grey eyes , robed in black gabardine with a skullcap on his head .
He was reading from the Talmud with a group of men from his congregation .
When Michelangelo explained why he had come , Rabbi Melzi replied gravely :
`` The Bible forbids us to bow down to or to make graven images .
That is why our creative people give their time to literature , not to painting or sculpture '' .
`` But , Rabbi Melzi , you don't object to others creating works of art '' ? ?
`` Not at all .
Each religion has its own tenets '' .
`` I am carving a Pieta from white Carrara marble .
I wish to make Jesus an authentic Jew .
I cannot accomplish this if you will not help me '' .
The rabbi said thoughtfully , `` I would not want my people to get in trouble with the Church '' .
`` I am working for the Cardinal of San Dionigi .
I'm sure he would approve '' .
`` What kind of models would you prefer '' ? ?
`` Workmen .
In their mid-thirties .
Not bulky laborers , but sinewy men .
With intelligence .
And sensitivity '' .
Rabbi Melzi smiled at him with infinitely old but merry eyes .
`` Leave me your address .
I will send you the best the quarter has to offer '' .
Michelangelo hurried to Sangallo's solitary bachelor room with his sketches , asked the architect to design a stand which would simulate the seated Madonna .
Sangallo studied the drawings and improvised a trestle couch .
Michelangelo bought some scrap lumber .
Together he and Argiento built the stand , covering it with blankets .
His first model arrived at dusk .
He hesitated for a moment when Michelangelo asked him to disrobe , so Michelangelo gave him a piece of toweling to wrap around his loins , led him to the kitchen to take off his clothes .
He then draped him over the rough stand , explained that he was supposed to be recently dead , and was being held on his mother's lap .
The model quite plainly thought Michelangelo crazy ; ;
only the instructions from his rabbi kept him from bolting .
But at the end of the sitting , when Michelangelo showed him the quick , free drawings , with the mother roughed in , holding her son , the model grasped what Michelangelo was after , and promised to speak to his friends .
He worked for two hours a day with each model sent by the rabbi .
Mary presented quite a different problem .
Though this sculpture must take place thirty-three years after her moment of decision , he could not conceive of her as a woman in her mid-fifties , old , wrinkled , broken in body and face by labor or worry .
His image of the Virgin had always been that of a young woman , even as had his memory of his mother .
Jacopo Galli introduced him into several Roman homes .
Here he sketched , sitting in their flowing gowns of linen and silk , young girls not yet twenty , some about to be married , some married a year or two .
Since the Santo Spirito hospital had taken only men , he had had no experience in the study of female anatomy ; ;
but he had sketched the women of Tuscany in their fields and homes .
He was able to discern the body lines of the Roman women under their robes .
He spent concentrated weeks putting his two figures together : a Mary who would be young and sensitive , yet strong enough to hold her son on her lap ; ;
and a Jesus who , though lean , was strong even in death a look he remembered well from his experience in the dead room of Santo Spirito .
He drew toward the composite design from his meticulously accurate memory , without need to consult his sketches .
Soon he was ready to go into a three-dimensional figure in clay .
Here he would have free expression because the material could be moved to distort forms .
When he wanted to emphasize , or get greater intensity , he added or subtracted clay .
Next he turned to wax because there was a similarity of wax to marble in tactile quality and translucence .
He respected each of these approach techniques , and kept them in character : his quill drawings had a scratchiness , suggesting skin texture ; ;
the clay he used plastically to suggest soft moving flesh , as in an abdomen , in a reclining torso ; ;
the wax he smoothed over to give the body surface an elastic pull .
Yet he never allowed these models to become fixed in his mind ; ;
they remained rough starting points .
When carving he was charged with spontaneous energy ; ;
too careful or detailed studies in clay and wax would have glued him down to a mere enlarging of his model .
The true surge had to be inside the marble itself .
Drawing and models were his thinking .
Carving was action .
The arrangement with Argiento was working well , except that sometimes Michelangelo could not figure who was master and who apprentice .
Argiento had been trained so rigorously by the Jesuits that Michelangelo was unable to change his habits : up before dawn to scrub the floors , whether they were dirty or not ; ;
water boiling on the fire for washing laundry every day , the pots scoured with river sand after each meal .
`` Argiento , this is senseless '' , he complained , not liking to work on the wet floors , particularly in cold weather .
`` You're too clean .
Scrub the studio once a week .
That's enough '' .
`` No '' , said Argiento stolidly .
`` Every day .
Before dawn .
I was taught '' .
`` And God help anyone who tries to unteach you '' ! !
Grumbled Michelangelo ; ;
yet he knew that he had nothing to grumble about , for Argiento made few demands on him .
The boy was becoming acquainted with the contadini families that brought produce into Rome .
On Sundays he would walk miles into the campagna to visit with them , and in particular to see their horses .
The one thing he missed from his farm in the Po Valley was the animals ; ;
frequently he would take his leave of Michelangelo by announcing :
`` Today I go see the horses '' .
It took a piece of bad luck to show Michelangelo that the boy was devoted to him .
He was crouched over his anvil in the courtyard getting his chisels into trim , when a splinter of steel flew into his eye and imbedded itself in his pupil .
He stumbled into the house , eyes burning like fire .
Argiento made him lie down on the bed , brought a pan of hot water , dipped some clean white linen cloth and applied it to extract the splinter .
Though the pain was considerable Michelangelo was not too concerned .
He assumed he could blink the splinter out .
But it would not come .
Argiento never left his side , keeping the water boiled , applying hot compresses throughout the night .
By the second day Michelangelo began to worry ; ;
and by the second night he was in a state of panic : he could see nothing out of the afflicted eye .
At dawn Argiento went to Jacopo Galli .
Galli arrived with his family surgeon , Maestro Lippi .
The surgeon carried a cage of live pigeons .
He told Argiento to take a bird out of the cage , cut a large vein under its wing , let the blood gush into Michelangelo's injured eye .
The surgeon came back at dusk , cut the vein of a second pigeon , again washed out the eye .