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Giacomo Manzù
b. 1908, Bergamo, Italy
d. 1991, Rome, Italy

 

Giacomo Manzù was an Italian sculptor whose monumental bronze works appear in public squares and gardens throughout the world. He is best known for his Door of Death, commissioned by Pope John XXIII for St. Peter's Basilica. One of his last sculptures, Mother and Child, was a gift to the United States from the Italian government, and stands outside the United Nations headquarters in New York.

 

Born the son of a cobbler, at the young age of eleven Manzù left home for Bergamo to apprentice under a carpenter. Later he apprenticed with a wood carver, a gilder, and a stucco worker, which gave him the technical mastery needed to be a skilled sculptor. Throughout these apprenticeships, Manzù also began to create his own art, which he modeled after the traditional sculptures and architecture of Bergamo. But at the age of fifteen, he stumbled upon a book about Aristide Maillol in a bookstore. Enamored by Maillol’s voluptuous modern sculptures, so unlike anything that Manzù had ever seen, he bought the book with his savings. After serving in the Italian military for two years, Manzù made the kind of reckless decision that is characteristic of those who are ambitious, passionate and at the quixotic age of twenty-one years: he moved to Paris with neither savings nor a work permit. Twenty days later, Manzù was arrested by the French police after having passed out in the middle of the street due to malnourishment. He was deported back to Italy, and made his way to Milan. In Milan, he received his first commission from the architect Muzio to decorate the chapel of the Catholic University. He also continued to create his own works, many of which were based off of Biblical scenes. In 1934, Manzù married a Milanese woman, and together they had a baby daughter. In 1936, Manzù returned to the City of Light, but once more his visit was tragically curtailed. In 1937, his infant daughter died, prompting him to return to Milan. His wife gave birth to a second daughter, who lived for only six months. With the threat of inevitable war and his recent loss of two daughters, Manzù became obsessed with making crucifixion scenes, an apposite symbol of both human suffering and the persecution of innocents. In 1948, Manzù was chosen to exhibit at the Venice Biennale. He received the medal for Italian sculpture, alongside Giorgio Morandi, who received the medal for Italian painting.