The Olive Garden serves Italian food and thus is vaguely Italian and so we will use it to segue to something else Italian: Michelangelo and, specifically, his Pieta sculpture.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; yes, he did carve two Pietas. But we’re talking about the good one:
He carved it right around the turn of the (15th) century and it’s widely regarded as pretty good.
A Pieta is a genre of artwork surrounding the compassion or “pity” of a figure or figures–typically Madonna–over the dead Christ.
Several elements of Michelangelo’s work differ from other Pietas. One is the use of a Mary who looks to be in her thirties rather than her forties or fifties.
Also if note is that the body of Christ is out of proportion. A thirty-year-old man shouldn’t fit well on his mother’s lap.
But there’s a gracefulness to the whole subject that belies these surrealistic details. Additionally, the lack of halos around these figures separates them from traditional versions and adds to the relatability of the scene, identifying the viewer with Mary and Jesus not as religious icons but as people. In this case the wounds and blood of Christ would, despite adding realism, would create a barrier between the audience and the scene. We are not meant to shrink from suffering here but to be moved to a different sort of pity.
It’s an interesting scene because it doesn’t force emotions upon us but allows them to come naturally. All the “unrealism” of the depiction only makes its effect stronger.
Which brings us to our present need for “realism”: we don’t like photoshop anymore–that’s what we say, anyway–because it clouds everything. But unreality can paint more effective reality, so long as the two are still somehow intermixed. Despite the liberties Michelangelo took with his Pieta, it’s clear that the “real” weight of the compassion depicted comes through. If this Mary is marble and can feel nothing for her stone-dead son, then we can still see the compassion the real Mary felt for her lost Son.
I took a photo at Olive Garden that also mixed reality with the arbitrary:
Clearly, the halo was a bit of a joke and Chrissi’s smile is false and worn for the camera. But James feels no such need to make himself up for the photograph: he simply does as he feels. And Chrissi’s compassion is real even if her smile isn’t: she’s still carrying the child three years after he emerged from the tomb womb.
And despite everything about The Olive Garden being a facsimile of a real restaurant, a real family, a real dinner, a real event–an image but not the true thing–here is a real thing, Madonna pitying her child.
Even in Chrissi’s smile–seemingly anachronistic with the child’s fading will–you see something real; there is no put-on grimace of pity. She is not modeling a Pieta, but living it.
1: linguini, shrimp (they messed up and these weren’t breaded), artichoke Alfredo (they really messed up and dumped this on top instead of putting it on the side. Had to force myself through half of it.)
2: linguini, grilled chicken, sauceless, please.