Giacomo Manzù 1908 - 1991
the artist was born in Bergamo on December 22nd 1908. Manzù
is an assumed name- his real name is Manzoni.
He was the son of a cobbler , and up to the age of eleven he was
apprenticed to several different craftsmen, amongst whom a carpenter and a
wood carver. He finally obtained a diploma in plastic art decoration at
the Fantoni Institute. In 1927, during his military service in Verona, he
occasionally frequented the Cignaroli Academy.
After a short trip to Paris in 1929, Manzù settled in Milan, where the
architect Giovanni Muzio commissioned him to decorate the chapel of the
Catholic University, which he executed from 1931 to 1932. In 1932 he
participated in a collective
exhibition at the Milione Gallery and a first monograph about him was
published by Giovanni Scheiwiller. In spite of these initial successes,
Manzù went to stay at Selvino, in the province of Bergamo, where Egyptian
and Minoan civilisations were no longer his sources of inspiration, but
were replaced by the example of Medardo Rosso.
At the Milan Triennial exhibition of
1933 he exhibited a series of busts that brought him praiseworthy
acknowledgements. Together with the painter Aligi Sassu, with whom he
shared the studio,
he went to Paris where he visited the Rodin Museum. The following
year he held his first important exhibition,
together with Sassu, at the Cometa Gallery in Rome.
In 1939 he started a series of bas-reliefs dedicated to the
“Crucifixions “ which he continued until 1946, in a classical style
with a pathos that brings to mind Donatello, using Christian iconography
to symbolise the resistance to the brutality of the regime.
They were exhibited at the Barbaroux Gallery in Milan in 1942, and
were severely criticised both by the Church and the Government.
In 1946 Manzù made several studies for the portrait of Mrs Lampugnani,
which he then painted life-size. At the Venice Biennial Exhibition in 1948
he was awarded the gold medal for his series of “Cardinals” which he had
started in 1937. He taught at the Brera Academy until 1954, then at the
Salzburg Summer Academy from 1954 until 1960. It was here that he met Inge
Schabel who became his life partner; she and her sister Sonja became the
permanent models for his works.
At Salzburg he worked on the “Porta della Morte” (Door of Death) for
St. Peters, Rome from 1958 to 1964. Having finished this, Manzù went to
Ardea, outside Rome, where he worked on the third of his doors, the door of
Peace and War, for the church of San Laurenz in Rotterdam from 1965 until
After dedicating himself for nearly ten years to bas-relief, he returned
to full-relief figures and more intimate subjects , such as “Passi di
danza” ( dance-steps), “Pattinatori” (The skaters)
and “Amanti” (Lovers). he also designed stage sets and costumes,
among which the most important are those for “Oedipus Rex” by Igor
Stravinski in 1965, for
“Tristram and Isolde” by Richard Wagner in 1971 and for “Macbeth” by Giuseppe Verdi in 1985.
Manzù has received many acknowledgements from artistic institutions, including the title of Honorary Member of the London Royal Academy of Arts . In 1979 he donated his collection to the Italian Nation and in subsequent years he lived in London and worked in Ardea.
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