Friday, 7 February 2014

Beautiful Boxes: Giacomo's Sense of Space

Things discussed: Giacomo Manzú, sculpture, Rome, boxes, scary cardinals, fighting lovers, Inge Schabel, muse, captions, forgotten museums, obsessions.

written by e

Museo Manzú, via Isola Verde

Giacomo Manzú (born Manzoni: Manzù is Manzoni in the Bergamo dialect), was born in Bergamo in 1908. From 1964 he chose a hill close to Ardea, 40 km from Rome, as his home. The hill was later called after him. He is one of the great Italian sculptors of the twentieth century, working, exhibiting and teaching in Italy and abroad.

From 1981, ten years before his death, the Manzú Collection, in Ardea, is open to the public and is also the burial site of the artist himself, since 1991.

Museo Manzú 

Although free, the collection is unfortunately not much visited, a direct reflection of the fame of the artist, greater abroad than in his own country.

The Collection is in a ground floor building with two big rooms, one further divided by panels in two spaces. The layout was planned by Manzú and his second wife and muse Inge Schabel, a rare case of a display after to the artist’s intentions. The Collection contains over eighty pieces, including sculptures, models, medallions, incisions and sketches of theatrical costumes, all the pieces mainly dating from his mature period, between 1950 and 1970.

The display in space of statues in different sizes and materials, and of the drawings on the walls, reflects the outer lines of the building. It is linear, tidy, spacious, with all the necessary light and space to stop in front and look around a work, and to move to the next one not too abruptly, leaving an impression lingering behind you, before opening to a new one.

You feel the consistency of space, of the empty space surrounding the sculptures. A perception that unconsciously brings you closer to the sculptor himself, and to a different way of conceiving and dealing with hard materials, marble, ebony, bronze.

Raccolta Manzú
Donna sdraiata
Amanti (Lovers) via Wikimedia Commons
Guantanamera, via Wikimedia Commons

The sculptures are definitely the masterpieces. Some etchings are beautiful, some sketches for theatre’s costume are less, but that is my opinion. A few of his renown Cardinals (a series began in 1938, with over 300 pieces in all) are almost scattered in the rooms. Two of them welcome and goodbye you outside.

Welcome? Their shadow takes on quite a menacing aura when you go out, especially if in the meanwhile it’s got dark. But inside, they go from being aloof, very tall and… yes, still a bit scary, to being short, plump and lovely. 

Museum Entrance

via Scultura Italiana
via Regione Emilia-Romagna

The bigger room has also a good number of Lovers (a theme started in 1965), seemingly scattered, but again in a good way, because you feel like it was a recurrent theme that he could not keep out of his mind and hands, and you actually see how he got always closer to fix, in unmovable matter, the frenzy of passion, and the endlessly fighting of lovers. They wrestle - their faces altered - in a magical balance, in the grip of muscles and skirt’s folding. They look like a counter altar to the solemnity of the cardinals, who are abstract in their seraphic, monumental shape, only their head popping out of a cape replacing their bodies, and with an almost erased expression.

Grandi Amanti, via Scultura italiana
Grandi Amanti, via Scultura Italiana

The third obsession of Manzú’s was Inge Schabel, his second wife, met in 1954, and his great love and muse since then. She is in the many a canopo busts, where the face is joined through an unrealistically long neck to a round bust, almost in the shape of an amphora. She is then in the many drawings. Each version is a bit different from the others, but together they get you to feel you know Inge’s profile so well, that you are sure you would recognize those strong lips, straight nose and long legs among hundreds.

Busto di Inge (Inge's Bust), via Scultura italiana
Inge, via

The empty space, the white walls, the grey ground compose the perfect frame to enter and embrace the Collection.

Ah, I forgot the captions, my soft spot. They are small, old, written with a typewriter, which I would have nothing against, if it wasn’t that sometimes they are anaesthetically yellowish, there are misprints, and some missing pieces of information. Just a tiny slip, in an otherwise very remarkable visit.

A display not too loud, discreet, giving the right space and breath to the works. And in this we should not forget that Manzú (and Inge) laid his hand on not just the sculptures.

All was even more appreciable, given that there were only two people visiting (us). Happily for us, alas, not for the house.


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