By Anne Leader
Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzù died on 17 January 1991 in Rome at age 82. Recognized as one of Italy’s leading 20th-century artists, he is best known for the monumental bronze doors made for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Cathedral of Salzburg in Austria, and St. Laurens Church in Rotterdam, likely inspired by the great doors of San Zeno Maggiore in Verona. He also made numerous free-standing works and reliefs, including portrait busts, nudes, and statues for public spaces like those found at the Palazzo d’Italia in Rockefeller Center, New York. Best known for bronzes, Manzù also worked in stucco and terracotta.
Born Giacomo Manzoni in 1908 in Bergamo, Manzù was primarily self-taught and remained outside the avant-garde so associated with modernism. He remained dedicated to the figure and was inspired by Greek and Italian Renaissance art, especially the work of Michelangelo. Among his contemporaries, he was drawn to French sculptor Aristide Maillol (1861-1944). Because of limited financial resources, Manzù’s early studies were primarily from books, but he did visit Verona during military service in 1927 and traveled to Paris briefly in 1928 to see Maillol’s works first-hand. He made it to Rome in 1934 where he studied ancient Roman sculpture. Despite his Marxist ideology, he won the 1947 competition for a new set of doors to adorn St. Peter’s. Pope John XXIII (d. 1963) granted permission to produce his Door of Death, which has proven to be controversial. Installed in the left-most door of the narthex, the door reliefs take their theme from the traditional use of this portal for funeral processions. Two columns of five reliefs each visualize the Christian meaning of death. Some found the images to be too physical and graphic, as well as possibly political, but the doors have remained in place since their installation in 1964.
Reference: Piero Pacini. “Manzù, Giacomo.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.
Giacomo Manzù in his studio in 1966. Photo: Mondadori Portfolio
Self-portrait with model at Bergamo, 1942, bronze, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966
Monumental Standing Cardinal, 1958, bronze, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966
Standing figure, bronze, Ludwigshafen, Germany
Door of Death, 1961-64, bronze, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome
Bronze doors, St. Laurens, Rotterdam
Family Savings, Fondazione, Cariplo
Cardinale Seduto (Seated Cardinal), 1975-77, bronze, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Fran and Ray Stark, © Inge Manzù