Giacometti’s Pietà

After following the Seine all day long, we were tired and had to tug ourselves up and away from the quais. At the first little bistrot we past, Chloe suggested omelets and wine. A young woman drinking pastis sat next to us. And you know how alcohol is.  It makes you talk whether or not anyone wants to listen. We paid little attention until she said that she’d been Giacometti’s model and lover and, j’étais sa frénésie! (I was his frenzy!)

Caroline, like many young women living in the French province, had come to Paris looking for a glamorous life. Instead, she wound up as a hooker hanging out in bars. That’s how she’d met Giacometti. He was 58 and she was only 21. Although intrigued, Chloe and I were not convinced of the veracity of her story so we offered her another pastis then left.

Many years later, Chloe was in Nice on a fashion shoot. The idea was to photograph expensive dresses worn in sleazy parts of town. Some kind of trendy yin yang thing. I rode the train from Paris so we could have lunch together. Sitting next to us in a petite bistrot sordide was this old woman drinking pastis. Déjà vu swallowed me up when the woman looked me in the eye and said her name was Caroline, Giacometti’s frénésie. Incroyable! This was the same woman we’d met in Paris years ago! There had to be a reason for this cosmic coincidence. Maybe she was an oracle disguised as a drunk. I had no choice but to hear her out.

Giacometti, ranted Caroline, was a vampire who needed women to survive. Even his female statues looked like anorexic votives exhausted by the demands he’d made on them. And those Etruscan shadow statues that Giacometti copied had convinced the Existentialists that he was one of them–always in the dark as to the meaning of life. I was beginning to think that Caroline had had too much pastis and was getting ready to go when something she said caught my attention.

Not long before his death, Giacometti had spent hours looking at the Pietà Rondanini. Whereas many had interpreted Michelangelo’s last statue as the sculptor’s end, Giacometti, instead, saw it as a new beginning. Had Michelangelo continued to make one Pietà after another for 1000 years, said Giacometti, they would all be unique simply because Michelangelo  was too busy moving ahead to fall backwards.

The word of the oracle had finally arrived!

Michelangelo was only 24 when he completed the Vatican Pietà and 89 when he last worked on the Pietà Rondanini. The sculptor said that once he’d seen an angel in a block of marble and carved until he set the angel free. It was the same approach Michelangelo had used with the Pietà Rondanini. Finally Jesus had been liberated from conventional aesthetics.

That night I struggled to fall asleep. In my mind’s eye I kept seeing the two statues side by side. The marble of the Vatican Pietà is slick and smooth and animated. The statue’s mass is a pyramid in a desert of space. Jesus, draped on his mother’s lap, is deposed from life. There’s nothing left but resignation.

But with the Pietà Rondanini, I almost see defiance. The chisel marks are distinct and, like wrinkled skin, indicate the motion of time.  Jesus is no longer distended but, with his mother’s help, erect. And ready for the ascension.

Life is initially Baroque, said the oracle, until it becomes something Minimalistic. Because perception changes with age, there’s no way the you of today can be the same as the you of yesterday. And with that thought in mind, I turned over and tranquilly fell asleep.


(from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)


Carrillo De Albornoz, Cristina. “Giacometti enabled me to know myself better”. The Art Newspaper, issue 223, April 2010. Retrieved October 18, 2018 HERE.

Lord, James. Giacometti. A Biography. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York. 1997.

Related: Alberto Giacometti’s studio comes to life in Paris…..Sitting on rue Victor Schoelcher, just 1km from Alberto Giacometti’s original studio on rue Hippolyte-Maindron, the Institute’s new home features a faithful reimagining of the artist’s chaotic atelier  + Fondation Giacometti-Studio + Yvonne Marguerite Poiraudeau book in French + Giacometti’s final frenzy: the paintings of Caroline + when Caroline met Giacometti, she was living at the Hotel de Sevres in Montparnasse +

For a while Caroline disappeared and the desperate Giacometti went looking for her.  She was in prison (Petite Roquette) for petty theft. Giacometti bought her an apartment making his wife Annette even more jealous of the young model. Caroline continued to be a prostitute and Giacometti enjoyed listening about her sexual encounters.  SOURCE

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