Estorick Collection, London
Entering the Estorick Collection’s current exhibition, one is at once breathtaken with sheer astonishment, for confronting the viewer is the life-size Large Seated Cardinal statue. Fashioned in wood covered in gold leaf, the vestment-wrapped figure radiates a Buddha-like calm, its grounded monumentality never obscuring its appealing serenity.
This very striking work ranks among the most famous by 20th century Italian artist Giacomo Manzu [1908-1991], renowned for distinctive religious-themed pieces including the bravely controversial 1942 bas reliefs on the Crucifixion which clearly condemned Mussolini-era violence, and the 1960s bronze Doors of Death for St Peter’s in Rome, marking the death of saints.
On display is Death of Gregory VII, a study for the latter; Bread, Chalice and Cloth — another devotional relief, and the 1951 bronze Crucifixion with General and Cardinal, which uncompromisingly identifies militarism and church corruption as killers of Christ.
In all these, Manzu uses sparse lines and clear backgrounds to dramatic effect.
The first massive Cardinal work is micro-mirrored by Manzu’s series of conical bronze mini-cardinal figurines, delightfully reducing ecclesiastical power to toy-like forms.
One of Italy’s leading sculptors of religious subjects, Manzu also explored the sensual world with evocations of lovers and the nude: the enigmatic Young Girl in an Armchair , awkwardly posed and possibly moving, seems in visual conversation with Classical idiom Ulysses Standing, of the previous year.
Rapid pencil portraits stand out among the works on paper.
Dedicated to showcasing the best of modern Italian Art for the UK public, Estorick Collection [in Islington, north London] richly achieves this aim with this revelatory show.
Giacomo Manzu: Sculptor and Draughtsman is at Estorick Collection until 3 April. Admission £5 [Concessions £3.50]. Check www.estorick collection.com for opening times.