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Giacomo Manzù

1908-1991

Giacomo Manzoni, alias Manzù, born in Bergamo in 1908. Since he was eleven he was apprentice at some artisans, including a carpenter and a wood carver, and later he obtained a diploma in decorative plastic art at Fantoni Institute. During his military service in Verona in 1927 he sporadically attended the Cignaroli Academy.

After a short journey to Paris in 1929, Manzù stayed in Milan, where the architect Giovanni Muzio commissioned him the decoration of the chapel of the Catholic University, from 1931 to 1932. In 1932 he took part in a group exhibition at Galleria del Milione and it was published the first monograph dedicated to him by the publisher Giovanni Scheiwiller. In spite of these initial successes Manzù retires in Selvino (Bergamo).

At the Milan Triennale of 1933 he shows a series of busts that bring him some important awards. Together with the painter Aligi Sassu, which he divides the studio, he went to Paris where he visited the Musée Rodin. The following year he held his first major exhibition, along with Sassu, at the Cometa Gallery in Rome. In 1939 he began a series of bas-reliefs dedicated to the Crucifixion until 1946 in which he uses christian iconography to symbolize the resistance to the brutality of the regime. These works, during the exhibition at Galleria Barbaroux in Milan in 1942, are blamed by the Church and the State. Meanwhile Manzù continues to gain official recognitions: he was appointed professor of sculpture at the Brera Academy in 1940, and his nude Francesca Blanc won the Grand Prize for sculpture at the Rome Quadriennale in 1942. He spent the war years in Clusone, near Bergamo. At the Venice Biennale in 1948 he was awarded of the gold medal for his series of Cardinals, started in 1937. He teaches at the Brera Academy until 1954, and then at the Summer Academy in Salzburg from 1954 to 1960. Here he met Inge Schnabel who becomes the companion of his life; she and her sister Sonja become fixed models of his works. His laic, high religiosity find its culmination in the poetic Porta della Morte for S. Pietro in Rome. Once completed this task, Manzù moved to Ardea, outside Rome, where he works on the third of its portals, La Porta della Pace e della Guerra, for the church of San Laurenz in Rotterdam from 1965 to 1968.

After having spent almost a decade for the bas-relief tecnique he returned to the all-round figure and to more intimate subjects like “Passi di danza”, “Pattinatori” and “Amanti”. He also designed sets and costumes. Manzù has been honored by the art institutions, including the title of honorary member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. In 1979 he makes gift of his collection to the Italian state, and in the next years he lives in London and works in Ardea.

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