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Friday, 1 January 2016

Giacomo Manzù: Sculptor and Draughtsman

A true great of twentieth-century sculpture, Giacomo Manzù is renowned for his delicate and moving work, focusing on portraiture and religious imagery.
As sensitive to line as he was to form, his drawings exhibit the same restrained, sinuous qualities familiar to us from his more celebrated bas-reliefs.
Aside from a few evening classes, Manzù was completely self-taught. He first started working with wood during his military service in the late 1920s, and within a decade his sculpture was being exhibited to widespread public acclaim.
During his career Manzù produced many notable works, including a series of bronze bas-reliefs about the death of Jesus Christ, portraits of his wife Inge Schabel and her sister Sonja, and the Gate of Death for St Peter's Basilica. His last major commission was a 6m tall public sculpture in New York, which was inaugurated in 1989.

Pope John XXIII commissioned Manzù to make his portrait bust, and despite all the artist's misgivings, there developed between them a warm and deeply significant friendship which drove Manzù to achieve the remarkable bronze Doors of Death for St. Peter's in Rome - the first new doors for the cathedral for 500 years.'

The door 'has large modelled panels that depict the deaths of Mary and Christ, as well as lesser panels that show the deaths of saints and ordinary people. Vatican officials were wary of Manzù’s communist politics and criticized his refusal to temper his unflinching depiction of death and human suffering with a more spiritual theme. Particularly shocking was his depiction of a cardinal looking at a man being crucified up side-down, a reference to the execution of fascists after WWII.'

Commissioning Manzù is an example of the policy advocated in France by Marie-Alain Couturier and Pie-Raymond Régamey and in Austria by Otto Mauer of seeking to revive Christian art by appealing to the independent masters of the time. An Artist and the Pope by Curtis Bill Pepper is a fascinating expose of the difficulties encountered, even at the very heart of the Roman Catholic Church and despite the significant support of Pope John, Don Giuseppe de Luca and Monsignor Loris Capovilla, in pursuing this policy.

Giacomo Manzù: Sculptor and Draughtsman will be at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art from 15 January – 3 April 2016. This exhibition focuses on examples of both his sculptural and sketching practice, revealing the similarities between the two.


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