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Giacomo Manzù 1908 - 1991




Giacomo Manzù: 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.

Sources of inspiration

 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.

First exhibition

 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. Meanwhile, Manzù continued to gain official recognition: he was nominated  professor of Sculpture at the Brera Academy in 1940, and his nude of “Francesca Blanc” won the Sculpture Award  at the Rome Quadrennial Exhibition in 1942. He passed the war years at Clusone, near Bergamo.





"Bust of Inge"


"The love's door"







 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 1968.



 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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