On December 22, 1908, Giacomo Manzoni was born in Bergamo, Italy. As a young man, I infer that he took some courses in crafting wood and earned a degree or certificate in plastic art decoration. I believe that he pursued little formal training, but became adapt in sculpting wood. He traveled to Paris and to Milan in the early 1930s to learn more about the world of art and artists. In the 1930s, he began obtaining commissions to decorate chapels. He started to work in bronze. There was, in late medieval Italy, a tradition of presenting bronze sculptures on church doors. I infer that that art form had disappeared from the repertoire of Italian sculptors, but Giacomo Manzoi began to design church doors with bronze sculptures. I think doors he designed adorn St. Peter’s in the Vatican City and churches in Rotterdam and Salzburg. At some point he changed his surname from Manzoni to Manzū for reasons that I do not know. Passo de danza illustrates his talents as a sculptor, but his paintings are held by quite a few art museums in the United States and Europe.
Manzu spent some of World War II in Switzerland, I think, but returned to Italy after the war and than began to teach sculpture. Many of his works were religious, and at some point, he became friends with Pope Pius XII. He, apparently, won quite a few commissions from the Vatican for churches and chapels both in Italy and elsewhere. However, he was also a Communist and the Russian government awarded him the Lenin Peace Prize in 1961. He also won several prizes for the Italian government for his artistic contribution.
In the late 1950s, I believe, Giacomo Manzu married Inge Schnasel. His wife, or his wife’s sister, Sonja Schnabel, served as a model for many of his later sculptures.
In the early 1960s, Giacoma Manzu, presumably with his wife, traveled to Detroit. I have seen suggestions that he came to work with and learn from the accomplished Detroit architect, Minoru Yamasaki. I have also read or heard suggestions that it was Yamasaki who invited Manzu to come from Italy to Detroit. Whatever the nature of their relationship, Yamasaki wished to add attractive sculptures to two of the building he was designing in Detroit in the early 1960s—the McGregor Conference Center on the Wayne State University campus and the Michigan Gas Company Building at Woodward and Jefferson.
Perhaps by this time, Yamasaki realized the limitations of the brutalist architectural style linked to Le Corbusier and clearly illustrated in the City-County Building designed by Harley, Ellington and Day at the corner of Woodward and Jefferson. There is no welcoming or attractive gound floor in the Coleman Young City County Building. When Yamasaki designed his building for Michigan Consolidated Gas just across Woodward, I infer that he wanted a much more attractive ground floor with an inviting entryway. Here is where the talents of Giacomo Manze are illustrated.
Using his wife as a model, he designed an eleven-foot-tall Passo di Danza (Dance Step) sculpture showing an extremely graceful ballet dancer on point while raising her hands over her head as she uncoils her long and senuous hair. Fortunately, this extremely graceful statue is surrounded by attractive flowers during the summer months.
While spending time in Detroit, Minory Yamasaki also had Giacomo Manzu design two small figures for the very appealing reflecting pond that Yamasaki design to adjoin the McGreagor Conference Center. These are known as the Nymph and the Faun.
After a long and productive career, Manzu died in Rome in 1991.
Sculptor: Giacoma Manzu
Date of installation: 1963
Use in 2010: Public Art
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Registry of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; November 10, 2010
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