I had started this post a couple of weeks ago because of the new sculpture category. Pope Francis was in Brazil and I had remembered that I had seen Michelangelo’s Pieta at the 1964 World’s Fair. I didn’t remember much about the Fair except  for the huge globe sphere (still there, I think) and riding wide-eyed on a conveyor belt past a gleaming white sculpture sitting in a cavernous blue room.  I didn’t know I was in the Vatican Pavilion at the time because I was 5 years old. 

Fairgoers in new-model cars ride through displays of Earth’s history at the 1964 World Fair in Queens, New York. Nat Geo archives via The Wall Beakers

Fairgoers in new-model cars ride through displays of Earth’s history at the 1964 World Fair in Queens, New York. Nat Geo archives via The Wall Beakers

Then last week The Wall Breakers tweeted “Riding through Earth’s history, World Fair, New York, 1964” It featured a Nat Geo photograph from their Found blog (link on previous post) of the dinosaur exhibit. It wasn’t identified as Sinclair Dinoland but, hilariously, I remembered my Sinclair Dinosaur souvenir. I have a post about the injection-molded Triceratops called The Dinoland Mold-a-Rama at FLIPPANTLY FLORIDA. 

There’s a great 1964 World’s Fair website with a fairly detailed back story on how the Pieta got to New York. I won’t go into the crating and shipping details but here’s the important part:

The story of the Pieta’s coming to America began in the fall of 1962, when His Eminence Francis Cardinal Spellman asked Pope John XXIII to permit Michelangelo’s magnificent sculpture to be placed on exhibit in the proposed Vatican Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. Good Pope John agreed to the request and added that he would also loan, for the same purpose, as a gesture of appreciation for all America had done for the rest of the world, the ancient statue of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Pope Paul VI confirmed the actions of his predecessor [who died in 1963] and on the night of April 2, 1964, carefully packed to withstand the rigors of a long land and sea voyage, the Pieta left the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City for the first time since Michelangelo placed it there.

Michaelangelo's Pieta, 1964 World's Fair

Michaelangelo’s Pieta, 1964 World’s Fair

This photo from the Fair’s website doesn’t do the Pieta much justice, but their description explains why I was in awe of the “Crown Jewel of the Fair.” 

The dark blue, flickering votive lights number more than 400 and are arranged in forty-eight vertical strings — twenty-four on each side of the Pieta area. The 13,000-pound marble base for the statue was quarried in Italy and brought to New York for Pavilion display. The statue itself is 68″ high, measures 63″ by 39″ at the base and weighs 6,600 pounds.

Overwhelmingly popular in its setting of blue, the Pieta was viewed by millions of Pavilion visitors as they were moved slowly across the special exhibit theatre by means of three mobile walks set at various heights. Tens of thousands of Pavilion guests desirous of studying the sculpture at greater length, utilized the rear stationary walkway provided for that purpose.


NOTE: Shortly before the close of the New York World’s Fair, the Vatican Commission on Fine Arts announced that numerous requests from many lands had made it necessary to prohibit henceforth the loan or removal from Vatican City of Vatican-owned art.